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Arkansas mulls spending $3.6B on road improvement projects, including widening I-40

AP Photo/Seth Perlman

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Department of Transportation is proposing spending $3.6 billion on 31 capital and congestion relief projects, including nearly $500 million over 20 years to widen sections of Interstate 40.

The department also wants to spend another $350 million on improving I-30 and I-40 in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock over the same period, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

The Arkansas Highway Commission got a first look at a draft map that outlines the potential projects at their regular meeting Wednesday in Little Rock.

“To me, this is a very good map,” said Robert Moore Jr., a member of the commission from Arkansas City. “I think we always have to keep in mind that we do not have enough money to do everything we want to do.”

The plan is still in the beginning stages, and nothing is set in stone.

The money for the roadway construction plan is largely contingent on the continuation of a half-percent sales tax that must be approved by voters. In 2012, voters approved the tax on a temporary basis to fund a $1.8-billion road construction program. If voters decide to make the tax permanent, the move would net the department an additional $205 million annually.

“More importantly, this is not going to be a regional vote to pass the half-cent sales tax,” Moore noted. “It would be a statewide vote. Of necessity, we have to make sure we’re looking at the needs of everyone in Arkansas,” Moore noted.

Department of Transportation director Scott Bennett said the department never gets enough money, but that the proposed construction program will be significant for the state.

“This will make a lot of progress,” Bennett said.

More than half of the state’s 16,000 miles (26,000 kilometers) of highways have pavement rated as D or F on an A to F grading scale.

About $3 billion would be spent over 10 years on repaving to extend their lifetime before more extensive rebuilding of the road is required, according to the DOT.

Bennett said he will present the draft plan to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, adding that he expects to have a final draft by September.

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