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DRIVETIME MAHATMA: Boatloads of I-30 cash not on tree

by Frank Fellone | May 2, 2020 at 7:26 a.m.

Dear Mahatma: I read in the newspaper that the big bridge across the Arkansas River will cost almost $1 billion. Where on God's green earth is that money coming from? -- Financially Drained

Dear Drained: Lots of people are financially drained right now. It's a big boat. One more straw and the camel will collapse.

Mixed metaphors are our specialty.

In one way, Mr. Drained, the money is coming from ... you. As a taxpayer. Because money doesn't grow on mulberry bushes.

The projected cost of the charmingly named 30 Crossing projects is $631.7 million. But realistically $981.7 million. The latter is perilously close to one billion dollars, which puts us in a mood to remember Everett Dirksen, the late Republican senator from Illinois.

Dirksen famously supposedly said: "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money."

Let's also paraphrase the late Saddam Hussein: This will be the mother of all highway construction projects in Arkansas.

We asked the Arkansas Department of Transportation for a breakdown, and the smaller sum -- feels slightly daft to think of $631.7 million as small -- was thusly broken down into its pertinent parts.

The Connecting Arkansas Program will contribute $461.4 million. This program was the one passed back in 2012 by Arkansas voters. Under the program, we are all taxed a half-cent for a decade, with the proceeds going to highway construction.

Federal funds will total $135.1 million under the -- flourish of trumpets! -- National Highway Performance Program.

A state of Arkansas match of $34.1 million, required under the -- flourish of cornets -- National Highway Performance Program.

From another federal program, $1.1 million.

What about the higher sum? ArDot has asked Metroplan, the regional long-range transportation planning agency, to add $350 million to the project. Metroplan agreed this week. The additional money, ArDot has said, would ensure the whole danged thing would be built. The whole danged thing runs about seven miles from Interstate 530 in Little Rock to Interstate 40 in North Little Rock.

The most important part of the project is replacement of the bridge over the Arkansas River, keeping six lanes for through traffic and adding four for local traffic. The local traffic would be separate from the through traffic, which to our mind is the project's best feature. Please note that our engineering certificate was acquired on the internet for $5.

Voters will decide on the higher cost. They will do so on Election Day, Nov. 3, when they may or may not approve Issue 1, which would make permanent that half-cent sales tax.

Now, Mr. Drained, the rest is up to you.

Ain't democracy grand? We're now thinking of H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, who wrote this once upon a time:

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

Metro on 05/02/2020

Print Headline: Boatloads of I-30 cash not on tree


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