The aging transportation infrastructure in Arkansas needs $750 million to make critical repairs, according to a recent study that identified bridges in danger of collapse and once-paved roads that have been reduced to gravel paths.
County judges, legislators and advocacy groups are determining how to pay for the overhauls in a state with the nation’s 12th largest highway system.
The study commissioned by the Association of Arkansas Counties identified nearly 1,200 bridges considered to be obsolete or structurally deficient and estimated that it would take about $154 million to make repairs on some 50,000 miles of county roads.
Some state officials have proposed a tax increase to pay for repairs, an option that Gov. Asa Hutchinson was reluctant to support during a special legislative session held earlier this year. Hutchinson instead signed into law a funding plan that uses some state surpluses and treasury investment earnings to raise $50 million a year.
State Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, said voters would likely need to approve any funding proposal.
“Whatever ballot initiative we come up with to send to the voters — whether it be a gas tax initiative, or the whole gamut of possibilities — we have to ensure that there is a plan for what exactly it will be spent on,” Douglas told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
White County Judge Michael Lincoln, who supports a tax increase to make repairs, said he’s had to close several bridges during his 10 years in office. Just to re-gravel the 4,000 miles of county roads would wipe out the road department’s $8 million annual budget, Lincoln said.
“We are in a crisis in this country, and people ought to be talking about the crisis that our infrastructure is in, and we ought to propose taxation that is dedicated to rebuilding infrastructure,” Lincoln said.
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