A transfer of state funds totaling $73.8 million for the state Department of Transportation was approved by a subcommittee of the state’s Legislative Council on Tuesday, after a recommendation from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The expedited push-through of these funds is, in part, an effort to repair Arkansas highways damaged by the flooding from earlier this summer. Of this more than $70 million allotment, approximately $30 million will go towards flood damage repairs, nearly $21.9 million to highway pavement preservation projects and another $21.9 million to match federal highway funds, according to the department’s request and letter to Gov. Hutchinson.
Danny Straessle, the spokesman for the department, said afterward in a written statement that the total estimated cost for flood damage repairs is around $30 million. Straessle went on to say that, though the state must pay for all of these repairs upfront, their hope is to be eventually reimbursed by federal funds.
Straessle also estimates that the estimated cost for the pavement project, of which $21.9 million was provided, will be around $478 million.
In this past legislative session, the state legislature passed Gov. Hutchinson’s plan to impose a wholesale tax on gasoline and diesel, raising registration fees on electric and hybrid vehicles and shifting an additional $35 million worth of state funds to the Department of Transportation. This plan is projected to raise about $95 million per year for the department itself, along with around $13 million a year for Arkansas counties and cities.
A constitutional amendment was also referred to the 2020 general election ballot by the Legislature, which would make the half-percent sales tax for highways permanent. This tax was passed by voters in 2012 and was originally supposed to sunset after 10 years.
This same subcommittee, Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, also approved on Tuesday Gov. Hutchinson’s request to move almost $6 million from the state’s restricted reserve over to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission as startup funds for the expansion of high-speed internet in rural communities around the state.