BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAUE –
LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department opened bids for 46 projects totaling $231.5 million.
After a review of the bids, if the Commission accepts all of them as submitted they would comprise the largest single bid opening in Arkansas history. It would surpass the previous high bid opening in November of 2012, when bids for $222.5 million of projects were opened.
The recent bid opening included what likely will be the largest contract awarded by the Department, a bid to replace the Broadway Bridge in downtown Little Rock for $98.4 million. It was the lowest of four bids to replace the bridge, and it was submitted by a Kansas City company with extensive experience in major bridge construction.
A recent project completed by the Kansas City firm was the U.S. Highway 82 bridge over the Mississippi River between Lake Village and Greenville, Mississippi. In the 1960s the firm built the Interstate 40 bridge across the Mississippi River at Memphis, and more recently did work on that bridge to make it more able to withstand an earthquake.
The Department has awarded $105 million in construction projects from bids that were opened in July. In June the Department opened bids for projects valued at $92 million.
The major source of revenue for the Highway Department is motor fuels taxes, which have been steadily declining because motorists are buying cars with improved gas mileage. The motor fuels tax is collected by the gallon.
For example, last year it was collected on the sale of 1.97 billion gallons of gasoline, diesel and alternative fuel sold in Arkansas. The previous year it was collected on 2 billion gallons of fuel.
In the 2012 general election Arkansas voters approved a half cent sales tax increase to pay for rebuilding and construction of about 200 four-lane highways to connect all the cities and regions of the state. It is estimated that the half cent tax will generate an additional $230 million a year.
The Highway Department will receive 70 percent and cities and counties will each receive 15 percent. Since the fiscal year began on July 1, the half cent sale tax has generated more than $13 million a month. It is scheduled to expire in 2023.
State Rail Plan
The Highway and Transportation Department is the designated agency to write and renew a state rail plan. It has scheduled a series of public hearings to gather input on amendments to the current plan, which was first written in 1979 and most recently renewed in 2002.
The Department will send the new plan to the federal government. It will be referred to when grants are awarded for projects that affect railroads and their intersections with highways and other modes of transportation and waterways.
The benefits of rail include fuel efficiency. For example, a freight train can haul a ton of merchandise 484 miles on a gallon of fuel. That is almost four times as far as trucks can, according to the Department.
The plan inventories existing rail lines and their uses, such as freight or passenger. In other states commuter lines are important. It also inventories the number of miles of abandoned track in Arkansas.