Bonds sought for road work OK’d in Arkansas

| 3/30/2007

Gov. Mike Beebe has signed a bill into law that will allow Arkansas voters to decide in November 2008 whether to authorize $575 million in bonds to cover road repairs. If approved, the state Highway Commission would be authorized to issue the bonds through 2013.

The proposal is part of Beebe’s highway plan that includes using $100 million of the state’s $840 million surplus for certain road projects. Another part of the governor’s plan – which has been sidelined – called for increasing the state’s per-gallon tax on diesel by 5 cents.

The new bond program, previously SB840, would allow the state to borrow money against the federal transportation dollars that come each year to pay for construction. The sale is based on the assumption that federal funding in future years would pay off the bonds. This allows the state to get money needed up front.

Supporters of tapping into bonds to pay for needed transportation projects point out the state is in dire need for road dollars. Officials with the state’s Highway and Transportation Department indicate the state has about $19 billion in highway needs during the next decade. But the state has $4 billion in anticipated revenue, the Arkansas News Bureau reported.

Another option that has been approved by the governor would allow counties and cities more leeway for dealing with transportation issues. The new law, previously HB1698, allows regional mobility authorities to establish toll roads and initial toll fees.

Voters will need to approve the initial fees. They will not get a say on rate changes.

Rep. Robby Wills, D-Conway, said the flexibility is needed or bonding companies will not issue bonds for toll roads, the News Bureau reported.

It also prohibits the mobility authorities from selling or leasing roads to private groups and charging drivers to use existing routes.

One other bill of note that received Beebe’s endorsement requires drivers to signal before changing lanes. The new law, previously HB1716, allows police to issue tickets to anyone who does not use a turn signal when changing lanes on roadways.