Arkansas Highway Commissioners Want Your Help

JANUARY 27, 2004 -- Posted at 10:45pm

JONESBORO, AR - Those who help make decisions about Arkansas' state highways kicked off a series of public sessions Tuesday night in Jonesboro. Meetings similar to it were held in 1998. That's when Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department leaders were told that projects such as improving Highway 63 from Jonesboro to Walnut Ridge, and turning Highway 63 into interstate status were important.

"I-555 is under contract and will be completed in the very near future," said Buddy Benafield, Chairperson of the Arkansas State Highway Commission.

Commissioners want to hear from citizens regarding those two projects, as well as questions and suggestions on future ones.

"If we get this 69 corridor, will it be going through areas that will help Arkansas not have to spend so much money on highways, " questioned Jerry Allison, former State Representative from Jonesboro.

Tim Hunt suggested, "We also would encourage the commission to, as rapidly as possible, work on a four-lane bypass around the south side of Paragould on Highway 412."

The transformation of Highway 63 into Interstate 555 is just one of many projects planned over the next 10 years. The problem is it'll take $16 billion dollars to make them all happen. There's only $4 billion dollars in funds. The $12 billion dollar shortfall will have to be paid through funding from capitol hill or through innovative financing.

"Of course anytime you do that you have to pay for it, and all that has to come from user fees, diesel taxes, gas taxes and that's something that can't be accomplished unless the people of Arkansas and the legislature choose to do it," added Benafield.

Some of the proposed projects have been designated high-priority by congress while others are necessary for proper maintenance.

"How do you prioritize," Dan Flowers, Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department Director, asked of those who attended.

State Highway leaders hope, with Arkansans' input, they'll soon find the answer.

The dates for the three future locations nearest northeast Arkansas ARE:

February 10th - Helena

February 19th - Batesville

March 2nd - Little Rock