Arkansas needs good roads, and that's not changing in the foreseeable future. Without roads, more than 86 percent of Arkansas communities would have no reliable means to receive groceries or ship goods produced by local factories and farms.
Roads are critically important to business owners large and small, farmers hauling grain to the elevator, commuters who need to get to work on time, and parents who need to safely get their kids to school.
However, financing roads has always been a sticky widget. To overcome this issue, in the early 1900s, able-bodied Arkansans between the ages of 21-45 were required to spend five days per year working on roads or contribute the monetary equivalent of their labor.
I'm 44 and teach 21-year-olds. You don't want us rookies building your roads by hand, and I doubt many in the audience strongly desire to take our place. Therefore, our state relies on tax dollars and professional engineering crews to build and maintain our roads and bridges.
Road revenue primarily comes from fuel taxes. As our vehicles have become more fuel-efficient, the
fuel-tax revenue used to fund our roads has stagnated while the cost of road construction has increased. The Arkansas Department of Transportation reports that $10 million would overlay 200 miles of highway in 1998. In 2018, the same amount covered only 90 miles.
The future of our roadway infrastructure is at hand. In the coming election we have the opportunity to vote yes on Issue 1 and provide our cities, counties, and state with sustainable resources dedicated to road and bridge construction and maintenance.
Issue 1 will not raise your taxes. It asks voters to reauthorize a ½-cent sales tax that has been in place since 2012 and is scheduled to expire in 2023. The revenue will be dedicated solely to the construction and maintenance of our State's highways, county roads, and municipal streets.
Issue 1 will have an $8.2 billion economic impact on Arkansas' economy in the next decade and help provide over 3,600 jobs every year. From Texarkana to Jonesboro, Pine Bluff to Bentonville, and all points in between, every Arkansas city and county will receive road funding from Issue 1, and the amounts are significant.
Voting no on Issue 1 will cost Miller County $579,553 in projected 2024 funding; Craighead County would lose $930,422; Benton County would be short $1.8 million; Jefferson County would have to make up $840,100; and Pulaski County would have to fill a $2.7 million hole in its road budget. If you doubt the importance of Issue 1 to your community, I would encourage you to speak with your local leaders and ask how much road money is at stake or visit map.voteforroads.com/counties.
There are those who would argue against Issue 1. They might propose the privatization of roads supported by tolls. Arkansas doesn't have the population to support tolling on any appreciable scale and, with few exceptions, states are barred from tolling existing interstates.
Opponents may argue that Arkansas has too many roads to maintain. I might wish the road I'm on had fewer potholes, but I've never wished it would go away completely.
Some say Issue 1 won't provide money for public and alternative transportation. Mass transit is not very popular in the middle of a pandemic, and bikes don't haul soybeans very efficiently.
Wouldn't reducing taxes improve Arkansas' business environment too? Absolutely! I would support any number of ways to curtail government spending but reducing road funding by voting against Issue 1 is cutting your nose off to spite your face. Simply stated, roads are not the place to cut government.
Roads are a long-term investment that pay dividends for decades to come. Roads built in sufficient quantity and maintained properly support jobs and improve safety by fixing bridges, reducing traffic congestion, and removing potholes along with other roadway hazards.
Roads are important to all of us. Let's vote for roads. Vote for Issue 1.
Doug Voss is the Scott E. Bennett Arkansas Highway Commission chair of Motor Carrier Management and a professor of logistics and supply chain management at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). The views expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of UCA.