AHTD Improves Public Safety with Connecting Arkansas Program
One of the largest highway construction programs ever undertaken by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) is poised to make a major impact on traffic capacity and efficiency, congestion, and traveler safety. The Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP), which includes projects to widen and improve approximately 200 miles of interstates and highways in the state, is also projected to support job growth and economic improvement.
The AHTD has the 12th largest transportation system in the country, with nearly 16,400 highway miles to maintain, but is ranked 44th in highway revenue per mile. A per-gallon tax is the primary funding source for highways; however, with fuel consumption decreasing, highway revenues from fuel have also decreased, and 70 percent of highway funding is consumption-based.
Recognizing this need, in 2009 the 87th Arkansas General Assembly approved Act 374 to create the Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance. The committee was tasked with determining an equitable and adequate system to properly finance transportation improvements in Arkansas and to propose and recommend highway finance legislation for the 2011 session.
A constitutional amendment to levy a temporary sales-and-use tax was included on the 2012 Arkansas statewide general election ballot after a bipartisan vote in the 88th AGA. During the November 2012 elections, Arkansans voted to approve Ballot Issue No. 1 (the constitutional amendment) to provide additional funding for highways, county roads, city streets, bridges, and surface transportation. The sales tax was approved by 58 percent of voters. With passage of Issue No. 1, the state sales tax has temporarily increased to 6.5 cents for 10 years, effective July 1, 2013.
The design and construction of highway and interstate widening projects is to be funded with the estimated $1.8 billion (comprised of cash and bond proceeds) anticipated to accrue from 70 percent of the tax revenue. The remaining 30 percent of the tax revenue will be turned back to local governments for road and street projects - 15 percent each for cities and counties. Every city, town, and county will share approximately $700 million to repair county roads and fix city streets. A permanent State Aid Street Fund has also been established, which allows cities and towns to apply for $20 million in additional funds. One penny from the per-gallon motor fuels tax is allocated to that fund.
The Connecting Arkansas Program includes 35 projects in 19 corridors across all regions of the state. Individual projects were selected primarily based on completing the four-lane grid system established by the agency, which carries 90 percent of the state's traffic. The AHTD's determining factors included estimated construction schedules and cost; the need to widen two-lane highways to four-lane highways in vital corridors, and pre-construction work already completed.
With a regularly budgeted program to manage, AHTD realized that the anticipated revenue to provide funding for additional projects also indicated a need for a new resource to manage CAP. Danny Straessle, AHTD Public Information Officer, comments, "In taking on this kind of program, we could either have added staff and managed it ourselves, or we could hire a project manager - and that second option is what we chose, selecting Garver to manage the program."
As Straessle explains, "The Garver team provides the technical and professional expertise needed to meet the demands of this program without increasing AHTD staff. With them managing the program, we are able to strategically focus our own workforce and leverage the additional resources provided by Garver and their sub-consultants."
As the Connecting Arkansas Program kicked off, Garver held a series of meetings, document transfers and follow-up discussions. Reports Jerry Holder, Garver Program Manager, "We took the gathered information, evaluated surveying, environmental, right-of-way, and utilities status of each of the 35 CAP projects, and used that information to create a master schedule. Our team also looked at the projects' complexity and impact to the driving public."
O. R. Colan Associates of Charlotte, North Carolina, was selected by Garver to provide ROW scheduling, cost estimates, ROW task orders, invoicing, and risk assessment. Other on-call consultants submit all ROW production work to the team for quality assurance review and recommendation for final approval by AHTD.
The 35 range of projects included in the Connecting Arkansas Program are located in all parts of the state. Among these projects, by region:
· Northwest Arkansas - Four projects along Interstate 49 help complete the six-lane widening between Fayetteville and Bentonville. More than 15 miles of widening are included through six cities. Also, the Bella Vista Bypass will connect with Interstate 49 in Missouri to improve transportation flow in northwest Arkansas and help separate commercial traffic from local city traffic.
· Northeast Arkansas - One of the longest projects in the program includes widening 14 miles of Highway 412 to four lanes near Walnut Ridge.
· Central Arkansas - Projects will improve Interstates 30 and 40 on the eastern side of Little Rock and North Little Rock while also widening one of the busiest bridges in the state, the Arkansas River Bridge.
· South Arkansas - Projects include a nearly 20-mile stretch along Highway 167 that will widen the roadway through four projects.
A handful of projects are already underway; the first project to be let is the Bella Vista bypass in northwest Arkansas. It will relieve congestion in that highly-populated area and eventually become part of the route of Interstate 49 between Canada and New Orleans.
"In the next year, construction will really pick up, with the bulk of the projects under construction," reports Straessle. "One area with significant traffic congestion is Little Rock and North Little Rock, and a good deal of work will occur on I-30 and I-630. Highway 70, which connects I-30 with Hot Springs, is a very winding stretch of road, and safety is always a concern. Improvements along that route will widen the road to five lanes.
"In northwest Arkansas, much of the work will be centered around Interstate 69, in the Springdale and Fayetteville areas where there is a large population and again, a lot of congestion." Of particular significance, he points out, is the Highway 412 Bypass project in Springdale - it is the largest single contract to be let in AHTD history.
In addition to increased traffic capacity and improved safety along the highways and interstates that will be impacted, the Connecting Arkansas Program will benefit the state in other ways, says Jerry Holder. "The projects range from rural areas to the large urban areas, and 54 percent of Arkansas' population lives in a county which has at least one of the CAP projects. Additionally, part of the $700 million in anticipated revenue is to be shared by all the counties, providing cities with money to do local repairs.
"The program is helping us get a lot done in a short time. There are always projects than need to be done, but all states struggle with how to get them done. Without this tax, many of them would be delayed indefinitely. So a huge thanks should go out to the people of Arkansas for approving this measure - as a result, they will see a lot of good things happening in their area, no matter what part of the state they live in."