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Lawsuit challenges funding on $630M Arkansas highway project

November 8, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Five Arkansas residents have filed a lawsuit to challenge whether a large part of funding can be spent on a $630 million project to improve the Interstate 30 corridor through Little Rock and North Little Rock.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday contends that Connecting Arkansas Program money can’t be spent on Interstate 30 because it’s a six-lane highway, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The lawsuit argues that Amendment 91, which governs the money spent under Connecting Arkansas, limits the program to only fund improvements to four-lane highways or two-lane highways that are widened to four lanes.

Voters in 2012 approved Amendment 91, which increased the state sales tax by half a percent for 10 years to help fund the Connecting Arkansas Program. The program funds regionally significant highway projects and is contributing about $448 million for the I-30 project.

But the lawsuit contends that the I-30 project, which widens a six-lane highway to 10 lanes, doesn’t meet the amendment standards to receive the program’s sales-tax proceeds.

“As the 30 Crossing is proposed right now, I’m not saying the Highway Department can’t get funds from somewhere else, but they can’t use the funds they are currently using through the Connecting Arkansas Program,” said attorney Justin Zachary, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the five residents. The lead plaintiff, Richard Mason, is a geologist, developer and a former president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation.

The lawsuit also claims that Amendment 91 prohibits the proceeds from being spent on an ongoing project to widen part of Interstate 630 in Little Rock from six lanes to eight lanes. The Connecting Arkansas Program is contributing about $58 million to the I-630 project, according to court documents.

The lawsuit seeks a judgment that spending the sales-tax proceeds on the projects is unconstitutional, and requests any money spent on the projects to be returned.

The lawsuit names as defendants five members of the Arkansas Highway Commission; Arkansas Transportation Department Director Scott Bennett; state Treasurer Dennis Milligan; state Auditor Andrea Lee; Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration Director Larry Walther; and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Hutchinson’s spokesman, J.R. Davis, said the governor declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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

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