Thursday, Jul 11, 2013
Half-cent Sales Tax Increase to Fund Highway Improvements
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LITTLE ROCK - The state sales tax went up from 6 to 6.5 percent on July 1 and revenue from the increase will pay for a major highway improvement program.
Arkansas voters approved the half cent sales tax increase in November when they voted for Issue 1 by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.
The tax increase will expire in 10 years. Revenue from the half cent will finance a $1.3 billion bond issue, which will be combined with existing revenue to pay for $1.8 billion in improvements and construction of four-lane highways that will connect all areas of the state.
The sales tax increase will not be levied on purchases of groceries, medicine or gasoline. Over the 10 years it will be collected, the sales tax increase will greatly increase the amount of state aid to cities and counties for road projects known as turnback revenue.
Highway officials have estimated that from $670 million to $700 million in additional turnback revenue will be sent to cities and counties as a result of voter approval of Issue 1.
In addition to the additional turnback revenue, passage of Issue 1 creates a new State Aid Street Fund that will amount to $20 million. The source of the money will be 1 cent per gallon of current motor fuels taxes.
Heavily traveled four-lane highways will be widened to six lanes, such as Interstate 40 between Conway and Little Rock and U.S. Highway 67 between Cabot and Jacksonville. Also, the state Highway and Transportation Department plans to widen from four to six lanes Interstate 540 between Bentonville and Fayetteville.
Interstate 30 from Benton to U.S. Highway 70 will be widened to six lanes, and Highway 70 will be widened to four lanes from I-30 to Hot Springs. More of U.S. Highway 270 west of Hot Springs will become four lanes.
The Department will begin widening U.S. Highway 82 to four lanes in sections between Magnolia and El Dorado and between Magnolia and Texarkana. U.S. Highway 425 from Hamburg to the Louisiana border will be widened to four lanes.
Between Wynne and Marion, more sections of U.S. Highway 64 will be expanded to four lanes. Between Jonesboro and Blytheville state Highway 18 will be widened. The Department will also finish widening U.S. Highway 412 between Walnut Ridge and Paragould.
The Department will begin work on a four lane bypass in Springdale to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport from Interstate 540. The major bridge project will be expansion of the Interstate 30 bridge over the Arkansas River connecting downtown Little Rock and downtown North Little Rock.
During the 2011 regular session, the legislature voted to place Issue 1 on last November's ballot. It was supported by highway builders, business groups and economic development officials who estimate that the highway program will create about 40,000 jobs in construction and maintenance of state highways, city streets and county roads.
Over the long term, the improved highways will help communities across the state attract new industries and develop new economic corridors.
Highway Department officials also emphasize that the road program will improve safety on some of the most heavily traveled highways in Arkansas, including stretches of road where school buses share the road with 18-wheelers.