JONESBORO — A major road project that was planned for last year may finally get underway later this year.

Like many things, the coronavirus pandemic has slowed key parts of the work leading up to the northern extension of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (formerly Commerce Drive) to U.S. 49 (East Johnson Avenue) at Clinton School Road, said Brad Smithee, district engineer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

“Right of way acquisition really did stall during the (early) pandemic times,” Smithee said Tuesday. “Those folks who do that for our part are in Little Rock. They were not allowed to travel for two or three months. To do an appraisal, they’ve got to look at properties. No. 2, once they get the appraisal, they’ve got to go negotiate with folks, and that’s pretty well got to be done in person. It’s hard to negotiate over the phone.”

Smithee said ArDOT hopes to open bids on the project in August.

Once completed, there will be a direct connection between Interstate 555 and Johnson Avenue, relieving motorists of the need to travel the heavily congested Red Wolf Boulevard. The project is expected to cost $34.5 million.

The extension, also known by many as the eastern bypass, is among many major projects identified in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which outlines goals for transportation and safety improvements through 2045. The Northeast Arkansas Regional Transportation Planning Commission approved the document Tuesday morning.

The commission’s planning area includes Jonesboro, Brookland, Bono, Bay and the unincorporated portions of Craighead County between those cities. The commission’s job is to recommend the best use for federal transportation funding.

Projects identified for the next five years will be included in ArDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP).

The Arkansas State Highway Commission is scheduled to open bids today on one of the projects on the list. That’s a pavement preservation project that starts at the intersection of Arkansas 91 and Arkansas 349 at the Westside school campus and extends 8.18 miles east along Dan Avenue and Johnson Avenue to Red Wolf Boulevard. The cost has been estimated at $2.5 million.

Other projects proposed for federal fiscal year 2021:

Pavement preservation of 6.77 miles of U.S. 49 and 49B in Brookland, $4.3 million. (Opening bids Feb. 24).

Intersection improvements to Arkansas 351 (Old Greensboro Road) and Airport Road, $7.1 million.

Widening Harrisburg Road (Arkansas 1B) 0.33 miles south of Parker Road, $2.9 million.

Railroad overpass on Airport Road, $14.6 million (Opening bids May 19).

Pavement preservation of 6.77 miles of U.S. 49 and 49B in Brookland, $4.3 million.

Pavement preservation of 2.65 miles of U.S. 63 from Southwest Drive (U.S. 49) to Washington Avenue, $400,000.

Major pavement preservation and other improvements to 6.8 miles of U.S. 63 from Dan Avenue to Southwest Drive, $20 million.

Major projects in fiscal 2022, which begins Oct. 1, 2021:

Intersection improvements at Southwest Drive and Parker Road, $3.2 million.

Pavement preservation to 5.1 miles of Arkansas 1 from the Poinsett County line to Harrisburg Road (Arkansas 1B), $900,000.

Pavement preservation to 0.95 miles of Industrial Drive (Arkansas 351 from I-555 to Highland Drive (Arkansas 18), $200,000.

Cache River bridge replacement, Arkansas 230 near Bono, $7.9 million.

Major projects in fiscal 2023:

Whiteman Creek bridge replacement, Arkansas 158 near Bay, $1.6 million.

Widening of 1.24 miles of Stadium Boulevard(Arkansas 1) from I-555 to Fox Meadow Lane, $6.9 million.

Major projects in fiscal 2024:

Widening of Old Greensboro Road (Arkansas 351) from Pleasant View Drive to Peachtree Avenue, $2.5 million.

Widening of Stadium Boulevard to Harrisburg Road (Arkansas 1B), $5 million.

Several other major projects are listed for the next five years, but no specific start date is indicated. Those projects include reconditioning 14.3 miles of U.S. 49 between Arkansas 226 and Arkansas 14 in Craighead and Poinsett counties, with an estimated cost of $3.5 million.

Other pavement preserving projects are scheduled on other sections of Arkansas 351 toward Greene County and U.S. 49 south of the Greene County line.

The Metropolitan Transportation Plan also includes earmarks for walking trails.