NORTH LITTLE ROCK — State highway officials held a dedication ceremony Wednesday to mark completion of the first project of a 10-year, statewide highway construction program that voters approved four years ago.

The event celebrated completion of the widening of Interstate 40 from two to three lanes in each direction between Conway and North Little Rock and the widening of two interchange ramps from one lane to two lanes each at I-40 and I-430 in North Little Rock.

All but 5.1 miles of I-40 between the two cities was widened previously, with the newly completed project extending the widening of the interstate as far as North Little Rock.

Only the final portion of the widening project was part of the Connecting Arkansas Program. In 2012, voters approved a 10-year, half-percent sales tax increase and authorized the state Highway Commission to issue up to $1.3 billion in bonds for the $1.8 billion statewide construction program.

Seventy percent of the revenue from the tax increase goes to the state Highway and Transportation Department, with the remaining 30 percent divided evenly between cities and counties.

“This was one job that we had almost ready to go. We needed a little bit more money to complete the gap between I-430 and Conway, and the half-cent sales tax program was what helped us finish it,” said Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

The widening of I-40 and the interchanges should “get rid of a bottleneck in the morning and the afternoon to help a lot of traffic flow safer, more smoothly, more efficiently between the Central Arkansas and Conway,” he said.

The department has already heard many compliments from motorists regarding reduced traffic congestion on that stretch of I-40, Bennett said.

Highway officials awarded a $38.4 million contract for the last segment of the widening project to McGeorge Contracting of Little Rock in September 2014. The total cost to widen 22 miles of the interstate between Conway and North Little Rock was $174 million.

The newly completed project was the first of 36 scheduled Connecting Arkansas Program projects around the state aimed at increasing highway capacity, decreasing traffic congestion and enhancing safety. Two other projects are nearly complete, construction has begun on six others, and bids have been solicited for three.

“We still have a lot of work to do. These jobs took a little while to develop, but you’ll really start seeing the projects start to roll out after the first of this next year,” Bennett said.