story by Michael Tilley and Kim Souza
A sales tax increase rejected by Missouri voters has pushed that state’s highway officials back to square one in terms of finding money to complete the portion of Interstate 49 that would connect to the Bella Vista Bypass at the Arkansas-Missouri border.
The about five-mile stretch is the remaining portion between Kansas City and the I-49-I-40 interchange near Alma without secure funding.
Missouri voters rejected an increase in the state’s sale tax to pay for highways, roads and bridges. The proposed amendment was defeated 59% to 41%, according to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office. The constitutional amendment would have been a three-quarters of one percent increase to the state’s 4.225% sales tax and would have included banned tolling on state highways and prevented an increase in the state’s tax on gasoline and other motor fuels.
Had the Missouri tax passed, the state projected $4.8 billion in revenue over 10 years that would have covered 800 road projects which were identified by state transportation officials. Missouri followed the lead of Arkansas who passed a half-cent sales tax last year to pay for its part of the bypass with a $150 million price tag.
Arkansas completed its portion of the 19-mile Bella Vista Bypass and stopped just south of the state line, waiting for Missouri to come up $50.4 million needed to complete five miles of the highway to connect Bentonville to Pineville, Mo.
Arkansas officials remain hopeful that Missouri will find the money to complete its portion of the road, but until then the full benefit of Arkansas’ $150 million investment cannot be realized.
Randy Ort, a spokesman for the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department, said the section will be built, but now the question is, “When?”
“It certainly throws uncertainty into the timing of it. Had the initiative passed, we would have anxiously awaited an announcement from Missouri on the timing. Now that the initiative has failed, we anxiously await an announcement from Missouri on the timing,” Ort said.
Becky Baltz, district engineer for the southwest region of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the five-mile segment is in limbo until other revenue can be found.
“Without the additional funding we’re not going to be able to complete that project,” Baltz told The City Wire.
Baltz said the section could be built within two years if funding were available.
The Northwest Arkansas Council, one of the leading advocates for completion of I-49 through the Arkansas-Missouri border, issued this statement about Missouri voter rejection of the highway funding plan: “We appreciate that Missouri lawmakers put the sales tax issue to a vote this week. Our organization has communicated with Missouri about the Bella Vista Bypass many times, even as recently as this summer, and we know Arkansas and Missouri are committed to finishing the bypass.
“The bypass has a huge long-term economic importance in both of our states and that’s why we definitely need to work together to get the bypass off our states’ to-do lists.”