Coalition asks legislators for more highway funding

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 597 views 

A coalition of statewide organizations has written an open letter to legislators supporting “meaningful” increased road funding.

The coalition, which released its letter Feb. 6, includes the Arkansas Good Roads Foundation, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Arkansas Municipal League, Association of Arkansas Counties Foundation, Associated General Contractors, Associated Builders and Contractors, Arkansas Trucking Association, The Poultry Federation, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas Asphalt Paving Association, and the American Traffic and Safety Services Association. The coalition was formed late last year.

The letter asks that lawmakers “find meaningful funding now, rather than engage in a fragmented discussion every two years.” It asks that lawmakers not “wait until the final days of the session to have a rushed discussion about such a critical issue.”

Referring to the current half-cent sales tax funding the Connecting Arkansas Program, it says, “We also believe that most Arkansans don’t see the extension of a tax they are already paying as a new tax, rather they think of this as a reallocation of existing resources for a worthwhile effort.”

Voters in 2012 approved the 10-year tax to widen and improve about 200 miles of highways and interstates.

The letter references a poll taken in December by the Gilmore Strategy Group for the Good Roads Foundation and others. It says that 90% of Arkansans said roads need to be repaired, while 89% believed improving roads helps create jobs. Also, 51% would be willing to pay between $1 and $10 monthly to improve the state’s roads.

Joe Quinn, executive director of the Arkansas Good Roads Foundation, said in an interview that the poll indicated that Arkansans “are very much in favor of extending the half cent sales tax.”

As for the coalition’s position, Quinn said it was waiting to see what is introduced during the legislative session.

“We are on the sideline watching, reminding, educating people that there’s a real need to upgrade our roads, but we are waiting to see what is introduced before taking a position on what we would or would not support,” he said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has made increasing highway funding a top priority this session and has indicated support for extending the tax.

The letter says 14 nearby states have increased highway funding by $37 billion in the past decade. Seven Southern states have raised or adjusted fuel taxes in the past five years.

The letter references a report by Arkansas Legislative Audit that found $478 million is needed annually in additional road and bridge spending for safety and capacity.

Quinn called the $478 million figure a “perfect number.”

“I don’t think anybody with a real understanding of Arkansas politics thought that 478 was possible, but it was, again, it was part of an academic study that said this would be to get everything to where it needs to be today,” he said.

The letter argues that the longer the state waits to make road and bridge repairs, the more costly those repairs will be. It says that 25% of the state’s roads are in failing condition, and 765 bridges are structurally deficient. Only 22,000 of Arkansas’ 102,000 miles of roadways are eligible for federal aid.

“The burden to fix this problem is clearly on the state,” the letter says.