$95M more for Arkansas highways adds leeway, director says

Funding gives department more flexibility

By Noel Oman
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The $95 million in additional money that will go to the Arkansas Department of Transportation annually as a result of legislation Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law Tuesday means more than simply an increased number of maintenance projects the agency will be able to undertake, the state's top highway official said Wednesday.

"It gives us a lot more flexibility in where the money is spent in addition to allowing us to do just that much more in improvements," Scott Bennett, the department's director, said after a meeting of the Arkansas Highway Commission.

Under Senate Bill 336 by Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, which is now Act 387 of 2019, the additional money has to be used for road and bridge maintenance projects.

In recent years, the department has had to use much of its state money as match funds for federal money it receives, leaving little or no state money available for its "overlay program." Projects in that program include sections of roads due for "overlay," new pavement designed to extend the life of the roadway and delay more intensive and expensive rebuilds.

Lacking state money, the department has used some of its regular federal money for the overlay program. Federal money comes with strings, including what roads it can be used for and standards that are sometimes costly to meet, Bennett said.

"Now we'll have the flexibility to use state funds for our overlay program, which means there are more routes that will be eligible, and we can do overlays without bringing the routes up to the federal standards," he said. READ MORE.

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