Hutchinson: New revenue needed for highways, including U.S. 412

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Gov. Asa Hutchinson addressed the North Arkansas East/West Corridor Association on Wednesday, May 16, on the campus of Arkansas State University in Mountain Home. The event drew community leaders from across the state to the Sheid Auditorium to hear plans for the future development of US Highway 412.

Hutchinson was the keynote speaker for the event. He told the group: “We need $350 to $400 million annually for state highways. In order to meet those needs, our general assembly must find new revenue streams. We are not likely to find support by moving funds from education or other services.”

Hutchinson also said the legislature will not support a tax increase, leaving a vote of the people as the only option for additional highway funding.

Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, told those gathered that $600 million has been spent on the US 412 corridor to date with 165 miles improved. The project was estimated to cost $900 million in Arkansas.

From the Missouri border east of Paragould to the Oklahoma border at Siloam Springs, US 412 covers a total of 254 miles. There remains 140 miles of two-lane roadway across the state. The corridor was intended to connect Tulsa, Okla., to Nashville, Tenn., under engineering standards of a “High Priority Corridor” as designated by the U.S. Congress in 1988.

Thirteen counties are either directly or indirectly affected by this highway. In Carroll County, there are 22 miles of highway through the southern portion, some of which is cited as high-accident incident zones. According to Bennett, these high-accident zones will be the major focus of improvements in the short term.

Bennett voiced concern over funding options. He pointed out that Arkansas has the 12th-largest highway system in the United States while ranking 42nd the nation in highway revenue per mile. He also noted that Arkansas Highway Commission chairman Dick Trammel has said the state highway department is the third most efficient in America.

Dr. Michael Pakko, chief economist at University of Arkansas Little Rock, shared results from an “Economic Impact Study” commissioned by the North Arkansas East/West Corridor Association.

Some interesting points of the study are:

• Average travel time to work is 30 minutes;

• 2 percent of drivers cross county lines in their daily commute;

• Carroll County has a high inbound workforce of 22 percent.

The cost benefits of major highway improvements translate into greater usage, which in turn results in higher consumer spending, labor pool expansion and new business development. Reduced transportation costs and expanded labor sheds bring additional traffic and business to local communities.

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