Governor Huckabee Plans $1B for Arkansas Highway Projects

Sat January 22, 2005 - West Edition
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LITTLE ROCK (AP) Gov. Mike Huckabee reiterated his commitment to a $1 billion state highway program, but where those roads would be built was unclear on Jan. 7.

A day after broadly outlining his plan to upgrade the state’s “economic arteries,” Huckabee handed out copies of maps showing selected routes throughout Arkansas that could be targeted for improvements and their projected costs.

State highway officials developed the map after months of discussions with Huckabee and state Highway Commission chairman Prissy Hickerson of Texarkana. The plan was based on which roads best serve the state’s economic and safety needs, the governor said.

The governor also provided a series of options for generating $90 to $100 million to finance bonds to pay for road building, including combinations of fuel tax, registration fees and driver’s license fee increases, as well as surcharges on the sales of tires and batteries.

The map included some key routes around the state in need of four lanes, including sections of U.S. 71 north of Texarkana and south of Fort Smith; U.S. 167 between Sheridan and Fordyce; and U.S. 49 from Brinkley to West Helena.

“These are some very specific proposals. They have very specific costs,” Huckabee said, adding that he would present the map to legislators after the regular session convenes on Jan. 10.

However, a state Highway and Transportation Department official said the roads outlined on the map were just examples and not necessarily routes the department considered top construction priorities among 8,000 mi. of highways needing $16 billion of work.

“This is just an example of how you could spend $1 billion,” said Frank Vozel, assistant to state Highway Director Dan Flowers. “It may be that we gave him this as an example and that he really liked it. Maybe it is his program, I don’t know. We have not prioritized anything.”

Huckabee spokesman Jim Harris later acknowledged that the graphic that the governor provided was “not the final map that will be determined by the highway based on the criterion the governor set. It would be a good one, but it’s not the final project yet.”