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Arkansas looks for alternatives to fund I-49 project

November 19, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Department of Transportation is exploring funding alternatives for the construction and operation of a section of Interstate 49 after a study found that using tolls wouldn’t raise the needed revenue.

The department considered using toll revenue to build, maintain and operate a nearly 14-mile (23-kilometer) section of Interstate 49 from Interstate 40 in Crawford County to Arkansas 22 in Sebastian County, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The project also involves a new bridge over the Arkansas River.

The new route is designed to improve transportation in western Arkansas by providing another river crossing. It also would help complete a congressionally designated high-priority corridor connecting Kansas City, Missouri, to south Louisiana through Arkansas.

Construction for the project as a four-lane route is estimated to cost about $776 million.

The department doesn’t have the necessary funding available, and a study by infrastructure consultants HNTB Corp. found that tolls wouldn’t raise close to that amount.

Officials also considered building the four-lane route as a toll road, which would push construction costs to $787 million. Operation of the toll road and its maintenance costs would tack on another $118 million.

An analysis of the toll project’s potential revenue found that the route would generate about $243 million annually, which isn’t much in comparison to the project’s costs, said Scott Bennett, the department’s director.

The Arkansas Highway Commission determined that it’s critical to look at alternative ways to help defray costs, considering the importance of the project, its high cost and the limited amount of money the department has available.

The department is looking at new approaches to fund the project, Bennett said.

“The next step is now we have to look at other options and see what those options would cost from a pay-as-you-go standpoint,” he said.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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