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Highway Plans Suspended

LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has suspended plans to begin 10 highway construction projects because of uncertainty that there will be enough money to pay for them in the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

The revenue for road projects comes from state and federal taxes. Some projects rely more heavily on federal grants, with the state having to match only a small portion of the total cost.

Both the state and federal governments collect motor fuels taxes and fees on heavy trucks.  In Arkansas, the state collects 21.8 cents per gallon on gasoline. All over the country the federal government collects 18.4 cents a gallon. On diesel fuel the state collects 22.8 cents a gallon and the federal government collects 24.4 cents a gallon.

Revenue from gas taxes has not kept pace with the cost of highway projects, a major reason being that cars and trucks are more fuel efficient every year and more consumers are purchasing lighter vehicles that get better gas mileage.

Arkansas has taken steps to solve the funding problem.  For example, in a 2012 statewide election, voters approved a half-cent sales tax to finance a $1.8 billion program to connect the major cities of the state with a four-lane highway. Arkansas voters also approved the issuance of up to $575 million in bonds to pay for improvements to interstate highways.

But in Washington, action by Congress is needed to maintain the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is threatened with insolvency.  Unless Congress restores the fund, it will not have enough for any new road projects in 2015 and money in the fund will only be available to complete projects that have already begun.

Because funding from the trust fund is uncertain, Arkansas highway officials pulled 10 projects from their list of projects scheduled for bid letting in April. They will make another evaluation of scheduled projects before the June 4 bid letting, therefore it is possible there will be another announcement of postponed projects.

The federal trust fund is supposed to be self-sustaining, but in the past several years Congress has authorized spending that exceeds the amounts the fund brings in from gas taxes. A new federal highway bill, which was recently introduced, is intended to replace the current federal highway bill that expires at the end of September.

The Highway Department is promoting its IDriveArkansas.com website, which displays up-to-date maps of construction zones. The roads are busier than usual in summer because people are on vacation.  If you click on the website you can plan a detour around construction zones, or give yourself additional time to drive through them.

Broadband Access

The Quality Digital Learning Study Committee released its recommendations for improving broadband access in public schools. One recommendation is for all school districts to invest in enhanced communications infrastructure so that it has at least 100 kbps (kilobit per second) per each student and staff member by the fall of this year.

The committee recommended that by 2017-2018 schools have at least 1 Mb (Megabit) per student and staff.

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