The director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation visited Crossett last week to lobby voters to continue a half-cent sales tax that funds highway work.
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor spoke to the Crossett Rotary Club following a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the five-mile expansion project that stretches from the intersection of U.S. 82 and U.S. 425. Local leaders and officials had gathered at the intersection, which — from that point into Hamburg — has seen a five-mile stretch of improvement construction. The project was funded by a half-cent sales tax put into place by voters in 2012. The tax was adopted for 10 years and is set to expire in 2023. It will be on the ballot as Issue No. 1 during the Nov. 3 election.
Tudor said during her presentation in Crossett that it is important that voters understand the history of the tax and that voting for it again does not increase taxes, but continues a half-cent tax that is already on the books.
“For the last few decades ARDOT has not had enough funding to keep up with the state highway system’s needs or meet the public’s expectations,” Tudor said.
The revenue that funds ARDOT is a fuel tax that is strictly based on the amount of fuel sold. Tudor said that because people are trying to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used, this has also decreased their funding. Additionally, the cost of road construction has steadily increased, making the limited funding even harder to stretch, she said.
“The cost of road construction has steadily increased. Back in 1998 we could upgrade 200 road miles with $10 million. Twenty years later, we can do less than half of that,” Tudor said.
Seventy percent of the 2012 half-cent sales tax goes to the Connect Arkansas program, and the other 30 percent goes to counties and cities, she said.
Members of the audience at the presentation asked about the I-69 corridor and the progress on it. Tudor said there was a $9 billion price tag on that project and that they had $160 million for it and planned to add more if Issue No. 1 passes.
Tudor also said that by putting small amounts of money into the project, the federal government considers the state more qualified to receive federal grants because it proves that the state had a vested interest.
“Let’s just be honest, Issue 1 will give us more funding that we will be able to do a lot with, but it’s not huge deep pockets where we are going to be able to build an interstate and it’s still going to take time to do these big projects,” Tudor said.
She also said that the $150 million earmarked for the 1-69 corridor isn’t for any specific part as of yet, but if Issue 1 passes, ARDOT leadership will sit down and get with local leaders and decide how to spend that money.
“We haven’t decided yet exactly how that money will be spent,” Tudor said.
An audience member asked about an I-20 connection from the interstate in Monroe, La., that would come to Ashley County. Tudor said she she remembered the study but it wasn’t on the books.
Audience member Johnny Bolin said that he encouraged the listeners to trust ARDOT to do what they say they are going to do and vote for Issue 1 in November. Bolin also said that he believes the southern part of the state has seen a huge difference since the original tax was passed in 2012.
“We have sat in the South for a long time and nobody has really cared about how we get anywhere, but when this (tax) started it seems like more people got involved and we started seeing improvements in this area,” Bolin said.
If the tax is not passed in November, the tax will end in June of 2023.