Arkansas Counties Oppose New Responsibilities For Road Costs

Sep 23, 2015

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Among the ideas being considered by the Governor’s Working Group on Highway Funding has been transferring some of the state’s 16,418 miles of roads to cities and counties.

The Association of Arkansas Counties doesn’t support the idea.

“Obviously, counties are in no position to absorb additional roads,” said Chris Villines, Association of Arkansas Counties executive director, in an association press release. “For the most part, we run a road maintenance program around the state, not one of new construction, and we can barely handle the 70,000 miles we currently have.”

Last week, the Good Roads Foundation, a group that advocates for highway funding, proposed a study group to consider moving lesser used highways from state to local control. The state-maintained highway network of 16,418 miles is the nation’s 12th largest, but the state ranks 44th in total revenues per mile.

The release quotes expressions of concern by Garland County Judge Rick Davis, Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison, and Dallas County Judge Jimmy Jones.

“I think the idea of offloading these roads on counties is ridiculous. It’s all we can do right now just to try to keep our county roads in working order,” said Jones. “We have a tremendous amount of logging traffic on Dallas County roads, and that infrastructure is critical to the timber industry. If our county is mandated to take over those roads, we will simply not be able to provide maintenance.”

The release said counties’ road maintenance programs involve “unpaved rural roads, chip and seal roads and some asphalt roadways.” State Rep. Joe Jett, D-Success, said the shift would not be cost-neutral because counties would have to purchase road equipment.

The Good Roads Foundation also proposed depositing state road revenue dedicated to cities and counties into city aid and county aid funds rather than directly to local jurisdictions. Villines said in the release that county governments are transparent and also accountable for the money spent because they are audited by the Division of Legislative Audit.

Randy Veach, president of Arkansas Farm Bureau, was quoted saying that a decreased focus on rural roads would be detrimental to Arkansas’ agricultural industry.