Arkansas Highway Commissioner Dick Trammel and Arkansas Highway Department District 4 Engineer Joe Shipman addressed attendees at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce First Friday Breakfast Aug. 3 in an effort to win support for Proposed Constitutional Amendment #1 on Nov. 6.
But they did not come alone.
Responding to a Wednesday (Aug. 1) report by The City Wire, they were joined by Craig Douglas, spokesperson for the “Move Arkansas Forward” campaign.
Douglas began his address by referencing The City Wire report and the possibility that the proposed half-cent tax “could prove a tough sell.”
“I hope today we will prove that quote wrong, and I’m about to give you a little ammunition to do that,” Douglas said.
As part of that “ammunition,” Douglas referred to the fact that “with voter approval,” the tax will “be authorized to issue four-lane highway construction and Improvement General Obligation Bonds in an amount up to $1.3 billion, which, with existing revenue, will provide $1.8 billion for four-lane projects” during the next 10 years.
Douglas added that “approximately $670 million” will be shared equally between all Arkansas cities and counties for local projects.
County and city turnback totals for Sebastian County are estimated at $26.362 million during a 10-year period (around $2.636 million annually), while county and city turnback totals for Crawford County are expected to hit $11.745 million (around $1.174 million annually).
While the Fort Smith region does receive its share of turnback money, critics of the plan point out that many areas of the state will receive special project funding totaling $1.548 billion in addition to the turnback monies that all counties and cities receive.
For example, county and city turnback totals for Benton and Washington counties combine at around $86 million, while county and city turnback totals for Pulaski County are expected to be $80.310 million.
Yet Northwest Arkansas and Central Arkansas will also receive $375 million and $648 million, respectively, in special project funding separate from turnback totals.
Sebastian and Crawford counties will not receive any special project funding.
To address this point, Douglas points out that Fort Smith has “already gotten special turnback money last November (with voter-approved extension of the GARVEE bond program)” and with “the work that’s been going on in Crawford and Sebastian counties anyway,” referring to Highway Department efforts in the Chaffee Crossing development.
Shipman added that the Highway Department has spent “about $71 million (in the Chaffee area), and we’re looking at over $90 million by the time we do the servicing contracts.”
Additionally, Shipman said, through the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, “the project on Interstate 540’s planning numbers are at $60 million, and resurfacing is listed at a little over $20 million.”
“So that’s $80 million in probably the next 18 months that will be awarded in this area. Plus, we will have more Interstate Rehabilitation projects in the future,” Shipman said.
Fort Smith leaders are showing their support for Proposed Constitutional Amendment #1.
On Thursday (Aug. 2), Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders said, “What this tells me is everyone has an important project. And if this passes, it potentially frees up other Highway Department funds that would be able to be directed to other projects in Sebastian County.”
Sanders continued: “The 412 bypass at Bella Vista is really a part of the I-49 project, and if they complete that portion, we can close a gap that should hopefully provide additional impetus for the rest of I-49.”
Sanders believes that if the Highway Department can “slowly but surely close the remaining gaps,” the I-49 project will become a bigger priority.
“We need to continue working with our congressional delegation to keep I-49 forefront in their minds. They’ve been supportive, and so we should continue to work with them and more closely with the Highway Department to keep the emphasis on their radar screen, too.”
Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) Executive Director Ivy Owen is also encouraged by the proposed tax increase, having endorsed a unanimous vote on Thursday by FCRA board members to support the tax by resolution.
Still, Owen plans to actively pursue I-49 completion. “We do need to be united and approach the Highway Commission to keep lobbying as hard as we can to get money. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and I’m all in favor of being squeaky.”
Nevertheless, he is confident in the Highway Department and Commissioner Trammel.
“From the day I met him (Trammel), I told him I was committed to making Chaffee Crossing work, but we’ve got to have this Interstate (I-49), and he said, ‘I’ll do everything I can to make that happen. He’s been a man of his word so far, and a good thing for the state as a whole,’” Owen said.