A year with no highway work? It is possible
One of the basic functions of government is to provide infrastructure for its citizens. Safe water, roadways, bridges, utilities – these are things that we rely on (and often take for granted) each and every day. The quality of our infrastructure plays a big role in determining the quality of our life.
As a member of the Arkansas State Highway Commission, the highway and bridge component of that infrastructure is our responsibility. It is our duty to use the funding we have available to provide the best system of highways for our citizens.
It takes a combination of state and federal funds to develop a highway construction program that totals about $500 million annually here in Arkansas. Federal funds account for the vast majority of that amount. Take federal funds out of the equation and our construction program basically goes away.
Unfortunately, that’s the scenario we are facing. The federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) that supports highway and transit investments is expected to have insufficient cash to meet all of its funding commitments beginning this summer. If Congress does not act quickly, the only solution is to cut back on federal reimbursements to states for the remainder of this year, and to forego obligating any new money from the HTF for all of federal fiscal year 2015. That means virtually no federally funded highway projects for more than a year.
In Arkansas, that will amount to about 30 projects totaling over $450 million that are in jeopardy for the remainder of this year, and over 50 projects totaling about $500 million that won’t begin in 2015. That’s nearly $1 billion in highway improvements that will be delayed at best, cancelled at worst.
The situation is being referred to as the “Transportation Fiscal Cliff,” and it is a very real, very imminent crisis we are facing as a state and a nation. Just last week, we had to make the tough decision as Highway Commissioners to pull ten long-awaited projects from the list of projects we had planned to take bids and award contracts on in April. Those ten projects were expected to cost about $60 million. One of those projects was right here in South Arkansas, that being a job to improve a 4.3-mile section of U.S. Highway 165 in Chicot County.
The outlook becomes even more grim if Congress doesn’t act soon to rectify the situation. About 20 more projects in South Arkansas totaling approximately $200 million are among the projects that are in jeopardy if Congress fails to act.
The Highway Commission has been in contact with our Congressional delegation about this situation. I would encourage all Arkansas citizens to communicate with their representatives in Washington as well. This is not about asphalt, concrete, and steel. This is about safety, mobility, and jobs. This is about our quality of life.