Highway Commissioner discusses roads, money with Rotary Club

While Arkansas voters have already approved additional taxes to pay for new highway construction, more money is needed for maintenance, according to a member of the Arkansas State Highway Commission.

Speaking to the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club on Thursday, Robert Moore said Arkansas has the 12th largest highway system in the country but is 43rd in highway revenue.

Gov. Mike Beebe appointed Moore, an Arkansas City native, to a 10-year term on the commission earlier this year.

Moore said the state receives just over $58,000 per highway mile, while neighboring Tennessee collects $108,000 per mile and California collects $682,000 per mile.

A one-half cent sales tax for highways was approved by 58 percent of the state’s voters last year, with the goal being to connect Arkansas cities with a population of 5,000 or more to the interstate system.

Moore said the improvements will make travel safer for Arkansas motorists and will provide needed infrastructure for businesses and industries looking to locate in the state.

“Tourism is our second biggest industry and good roads are essential to growing our number two industry,” Moore said.

In addition to providing funding for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, a portion of that sales tax money will be returned to cities and counties in the state, and Moore said Pine Bluff stands to collect just over $8.7 million over the course of the 10-year life cycle of the tax, while Jefferson County will receive just over $6.5 million.

While praising the sales tax increase, Moore also made a pitch for legislation that he said would help Arkansas get away from depending on state and federal fuel taxes to pay for highway construction and improvement.

Arriving at the Pine Bluff Country Club just before he was scheduled to speak, Moore said he had been at a meeting of the Arkansas House Transportation Committee testifying for a proposed bill that would have provided additional highway funding from a portion of state general revenue from sales taxes collected on new and used vehicles over a 10-year period.

“Eighty percent of our funding comes from federal and state gasoline taxes, but right now everyone wants to reduce our depending on foreign oil and reduce gas consumption and we’re doing it,” Moore said. “Over the 10 years of the project, we’re predicting that gas consumption will be cut in half.”

That legislation failed by a vote of 10 to nine in the committee, with 11 votes needed to send the proposal to the full house, but Moore said it will probably come up again.

“We’ve heard of all kinds of cliffs, but right now we’re about to go off a cliff in terms of highway funding and that’s going to impair safety and economic development in this state,” Moore said.

He also called for increased enforcement of the state’s littering statutes, saying that “it’s important for people traveling through the state to see clean highways.”

Moore said the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department currently spends $5 million annually to pick up litter on the state’s highways.

A former member of the Arkansas House of Representatives and former director of the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Moore said “there are some cities who make a lot of revenue off enforcing speeding laws but if they were to enforce littering laws, they could make a lot more.”