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ArDOT director addresses projects

by Lindsey Wells | August 23, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.

The Interstate Rehabilitation Program approved by voters in 2011 has allowed just under $1 billion in work on Arkansas' interstates, and the Arkansas Department of Transportation hopes to institute a similar program to provide additional funding for the state's highways in 2019, ArDOT Director Scott Bennett said Wednesday.

Bennett spoke to the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club during its weekly meeting at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa about past, present and future highway projects and concerns about future funding for these projects.

In addition to the approval of the Interstate Rehabilitation Program in 2011, a year later voters also approved a half-cent sales tax issue in 2012. Together, Bennett said, the two programs have added $3 billion worth of improvements to Arkansas roadways, but that work is only improving about 4 percent of the state's highways.

From a local standpoint, in just the past 10 years the ArDOT has completed $132 million worth of work in Garland County alone, with $26 million going toward projects currently under construction and another $200 million set aside for projects set to begin in the next couple of years.

Some recently completed projects include the Highway 70 east widening project from Hot Springs to I-30 and projects on highways 5 and 7. Additional improvements are planned for highways 5, 7, 70 and 270 in the upcoming years.

About the completed Highway 70 project, Bennett said, "A lot of you have driven Highway 70 many, many times and it's gotten a lot better. We started out with this as two separate projects and we made the decision to turn those two projects into one project, a pretty big project, almost $80 million. That project was recently completed and we're really happy that we've been able to do such a good job on that and make it a safer and more efficient route."

Another project coming up in Hot Springs is the extension of the King Expressway. Bennett said the $60 million project is expected to be under construction beginning in the latter part of 2019.

"That'll take a lot of traffic out of downtown Hot Springs and will provide a much safer route there, also," he said.

In addition to the "bigger projects," Bennett said the ArDOT places a lot of focus on maintaining the current roadways to ensure they are smooth and safe to be driven on. He referred to those projects as Pavement Preservation Projects.

"This is a lot of what we're going to be concentrating on in the next few years to make sure we really take care of what we have," he said.

"We've done a lot of work in and around Garland County and a lot of work in and around the state, and sometimes it's hard to see with the work going on, but there really are a lot of concerns that we have about being able to continue this work in the future."

He said the ArDOT enlisted the help of the Arkansas Legislative Audit to complete a revenue assessment and they reported back that the department has only about half the revenue it needs to meet the future needs of the state's highway system.

"Today, overall, we have 68,400 miles of highway -- we have the 12th largest highway system in the country. We have more highways in Arkansas than they have in California, New York or Florida. We have a big highway system to take care of," Bennett said. "Right now, 18 percent of our highways are in good condition, 58 percent in fair condition and almost a quarter of them in poor condition. The problem is, if you don't have the money to take care of those, then the poor start to get worse and the fair start to get worse and that's what we're running into."

To "set the tone" for a new highway system and allow citizens to voice their opinions on the matter, the ArDOT provided a citizens opinion survey on highways in Arkansas. Bennett said the results confirmed that 75 percent of people said they are not currently satisfied with the state's highways and 75 percent of people also said they would support a new highway program that would generate additional revenue.

"If you've driven Highway 70, you can see what we do when we have the money available for highway improvements and you're about to see the same thing on the MLK Expressway, what we can do when we work together to adequately fund our highways. We need a lot more to be able to take care of the 12th largest system in the country," Bennett said.

Local on 08/23/2018

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