It’s no secret that good roads are vital to community growth. As the Executive Director of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal, I see first-hand how important infrastructure is to industry recruitment, jobs and overall economic health of rural areas.
A well-funded, well-maintained highway and road system is vital to all types of industry, from manufacturing to tourism, and impacts all areas of commerce.
During the upcoming Nov. 3 election, Arkansans are voting on a permanent, dedicated 0.5 percent state sales tax for the state highway system. This initiative is known as Ballot Issue One, and I am asking you to vote “Yes.”
The most important item on the ballot, with the exception of the 2020 Presidential Election, is Issue One, which would provide sustained, critical funding for road infrastructure at the state, county and city levels. The revenue will be utilized for maintaining, repairing and improving more than 7,000 miles of roads and dangerous bridges across the entire state.
Under the proposed formula, 70 percent of the funds will be directed to the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) for critical highway projects like 412 and 63. The remaining 30 percent will be divided as 15 percent to the counties and 15 percent to cities as turnback funds.
Without the permanent extension of this already existing sales tax, local officials will be forced to cut their road budgets by 30 percent overnight. What does a 30 percent loss look like in Lawrence County? According the ARDOT, it is an expected annual loss of $679,938. That breakdown includes a $267,767 loss for city governments and $412,171 for the county road department.
That number balloons to nearly $2.6 million annually for the entire NEA Intermodal footprint, which doesn’t include the lapse of funding for state level highway projects. Those losses will be devastating to our rural communities, which already struggle with maintaining the high volume of secondary, farm-to-market roads.
These funds impact so much more than local road improvements, though. Highways and roads are also important to economic recruitment and prosperity. For example, a well-maintained road system signals to potential businesses that a community invests in itself and cares about the needs of employers. Rural communities often lose important economic development projects because they simply don’t have the infrastructure to support the needs of large employers and don’t have the money to make necessary upgrades quickly.
In addition to recruitment, good transportation impacts the ability of agriculture and manufacturers to get goods to market and affects small businesses and tourism’s ability to entice customers to visit. Roads influence small businesses and large industry alike.
Issue One also impacts jobs. This highway funding will support more than 3,600 engineering, construction and supplier jobs every year and provide $8.2 billion of economic activity over the next decade. The wages earned through these jobs will also be reinvested into local communities across the state, causing a positive ripple effect for years to come.
Safety and efficiency are also major reasons to support Issue One. Well-funded roadways provide safe transportation for residents, industry and visitors. Outdated roads with deteriorating pavement, cracks and potholes damage vehicles and contribute to a number of automotive accidents, and no one should have to worry about the safety of their family or employees when driving across a bridge.
The good news is that this is not a new tax. Issue One is simply a permanent extension of the half-cent sales and use tax a majority of Arkansas voters approved in 2012 for major road improvements like the Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP).
That initiative improved more that 200 miles of highways across the state and gave a similar amount of funding to cities and counties for improvements. Since approved, ARDOT’s Connecting Arkansas Program has completed 16 projects, while an additional 20, including the Hwy. 412 expansion, are currently under construction or scheduled to begin.
Vibrant communities begin with well-maintained roads and highways. They are, quite-literally, the foundation for success. That is why I am asking all citizens to support Ballot Issue One and continue the vital work that we’ve already started across our state. And remember, a vote for roads is a vote for community.