What do you see when you look at this photo? Maybe road improvement work that might slow you down a bit? Work like this can delay your drive, but it’s also easy to look at this scene and see 3,500 new jobs for Arkansas, and $8.2 billion in economic activity.
That’s the number of jobs and the number of dollars our state will see in the next ten years if the legislature passes the roads and bridges investment plan currently being discussed at the state capitol.
This is a plan that will help us address the fact that 25% of our roads are in failing condition, and many of our rural bridges can’t handle a fully loaded school bus.
There are all sorts of numbers to bolster the case that it’s a good time to do this. Arkansas has the 12th largest highway system in the US, but we rank 41st in available revenue to maintain it. Neighboring states have spent $37 billion on roads in the past decade, while the fuel tax in Arkansas hasn’t been increased in years. But let’s put the numbers aside for a moment, and just talk about the fact a real investment in roads means safer travel for your family, and less time sitting in traffic. It means your 15-minute drive home from work doesn’t have to constantly be a 35-minute commute home.
Our legislators have recently cut the income tax we pay, and the final stage of the grocery tax reduction is in place. So, this is a realistic time to spend some money on upgrading our roads that need work. This is both an investment in the future and an efficient plan.
In Arkansas we tend to believe in taking care of what we have before we spend money on anything new. That’s one reason most of the money in this investment will be spent on overlaying and rebuilding damaged roads.
A recent poll indicated that more than half of the households in Arkansas are willing to pay between $1 and $10 dollars a month for better and safer roads. That’s less than a quarter tank of gas for a pick-up truck, and probably less than coffee for two people at Starbucks.
It’s a reasonable amount of money to make our state better for business, tourism, and families. This is a moment to have a positive impact on all the towns, cities, and counties across our great state. It’s also an investment that is set up so local leaders like county judges and mayors are the decision makers on which local roads are repaired first.
The Arkansas Good Roads Foundation has a great deal of respect for Governor Hutchinson and the legislative leaders who are moving this effort along. Our foundation mission is not to tell legislators which plan we think is best, but to simply educate people on why any plan is good for our roads, and our state.
Better roads and bridges will make a better quality of life in the state we all love. Hopefully, you will think about that the next time you see orange barrels or road work equipment.
And if you see your legislator this week, please tell them thanks for the work on this issue.