November 2, 2011 Edition

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Election is Tuesday on
state highway bond issue

Susan Johnson
Contributing Writer

On Tuesday, Arkansas voters will voice their opinion concerning the "Move Arkansas Forward" initiative in a statewide general election for the issuing of interstate highway improvement bonds.

Dick Trammel, a member of the Arkansas Highway Commission, recently spoke in favor of the initiative. He stated that the issuing of bonds (similar to the refinancing of a home mortgage) would not only modernize Arkansas interstates, create jobs and improve economic development, but would do so without an increase in taxes.

"There will be no tax increase," Trammel said. "The financing (of existing highway improvements) will come as a result of the existing four-cent state diesel tax passed in 1999 and the federal highway interstate maintenance funds. It's an opportunity to continue the improvements that began in 1999."

In 1999, over 70 percent of Arkansans who voted in a special election approved an Interstate Rehabilitation Program that re-constructed 356 miles of Interstate highways. However, there are 650 miles of Interstate highways, with 300 miles now in need of immediate repair.

Thus, Governor Mike Beebe made the decision to call another special election to ask Arkansas voters again to vote for authorization of new bonds to finish the job started 12 years ago. New bonds can be issued no later than December 31, 2015, and can only exist for an additional 12 years.

According to Trammel, a new 2011 Interstate Rehabilitation Program will modernize the most critical 300 miles of Interstates and help finish the job started in 1999. By authorizing the Arkansas Highway Commission to issue $575 million in bonds deemed GARVEE Bonds - Arkansas voters can modernize the interstate system, a system that makes up the backbone of the state's road and highway network. Randy Ort, Arkansas Highway Commission public relations director, said the bonds can only be used for existing highway improvements.

"This will be strictly for interstate work only," Ort said. "It cannot be used for any new lanes or any new highway construction. It is strictly to finish the work we began in 1999, and the bonds will be repaid with funds that are already in place. There will be no new tax, or an increase of any existing taxes."

Early voting is now underway.

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