Will Region 8 Roadways Benefit from New Transportation Bill?

February 17, 2004 -- Posted at 4:15 p.m. CST

JONESBORO -- Congress has approved more than $300 billion dollars in the Senate Transportation Bill. Right now it's estimated that Arkansas will receive more than $780 million dollars of that money...and hopefully some of that will end up in Region 8.

Some of that money is earmarked for certain large projects, but it's the leftovers that will eventually trickle down into Northeast Arkansas...and hopefully, that will mean a difference in the roads in Region 8.

"The highway commission has recently completed a needs study that projected in the next 10 years that there would be 16 billion dollars in Arkansas that would be needed. Anticipated revenue is only 4 billion dollars, so there's a significant shortfall," said Joe Barnett of the Arkansas Highway Transportation Department.

But with money from the Federal Transportation Bill, making up the difference wouldn't be hard.

With more than $300 billion dollars up for grabs in the bill, most of that money is ear marked for large projects like interstate construction and repair. Arkansas may be fighting a tough battle for smaller projects like here on Highway 63B in Jonesboro.

"There's certain types of funding that have to be spent on certain projects, some of it's for urban areas, some of it's for interstates, bridge replacement, safety and so forth. Then when it gets down to what we refer to as discretionary funds, then those funds are split up evenly into the five areas of the state," said Barnett.

But folks here in Northeast Arkansas have plenty of ideas on where to spent those funds.

"I would like to see some more four lanes, I really would. that would be real good," said Stevie Prunty.

Imogene Baldwin agreed that Arkansas roads need more funding.

"It would be nice to have better bridges, and I would like to see this main street fixed. The brick on it where it's not so bumpy. We've had lots of complaints on it," said Baldwin.

But the Arkansas Highway Transportation Department says you can't complain about the scope of improvements occurring now, in Region 8.

"In Northeast Arkansas the extension of US 67 from Newport north. The four lanning of US 63 from Jonesboro on up to Hoxie, Walnut Ridge are projects that we're working on," said Barnett.

But when it comes to road construction, Arkansas is a pay-as-you-go state. In other words, contracted work is directly proportional to the revenue that comes in. So without the appropriate funds, some projects may not get completed.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, for every one billion dollars in highway and infrastructure projects, an estimated 47,500 jobs are created.