- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Highway officials gave a bird’s-eye view of a $150 million project at Arkansas’ busiest intersection Wednesday, gathering with politicians and others on the highest bridge of a rebuilt interchange that eases traffic flow among Little Rock and its suburbs.

About 200,000 vehicles pass through the Big Rock interchange every day - up from the 35,000 that rolled along the highways 35 years ago. The last “flyover” bridge could open this weekend, marking the end of heavy construction.

“Now you’re seeing the fruits of our labor,” Scott Bennett, the director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, said while standing on what will soon be a ramp connecting Interstate 630 to I-430.

Beneath him, traffic continued on four layers of concrete ribbons built or rebuilt during the six-year project. Since 2009, drivers have had to bear with detours, lane closures and, at times, suggestions that they avoid the interchange altogether.

“We know that any time you undertake a project this big, it’s hard to control traffic,” Bennett said, thanking motorists for their patience.

The interchange was rural decades ago, when Interstate 430 carried 14,000 vehicles a day and I-630 carried 21,000. Until this summer, I-630’s westbound lanes ended abruptly at a traffic light just feet beyond its last intersection.

Now, the I-630 mainline continues on another two blocks west, still ending at a traffic light but beyond wide ramps built to funnel traffic to the northern and southwestern suburbs.

Mayor Mark Stodola said that while the improved interchange will make it easier for commuters to reach their homes, it also makes it easier for people to reach the capital city for shopping, jobs and tourism.

“The fact that we can improve the access of people in and out is important,” Stodola said before the dedication ceremony. “The congestion in the morning and the congestion in the evening are issues. We continue to concentrate hundreds of thousands of people downtown.”

Atop the interchange Wednesday, the final flyover still needed to have barrels removed and lanes painted. A portable toilet stood next to a highway sign and it needs to go, too.

The Big Rock interchange is named for a 5 million-pound rock formation uncovered during construction. Designers altered routes to accommodate the largest part of the rock in place.

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