In 2022, the scheduled I-69 improvement project between Highways 278 and Highway 65 (S) will be among five Arkansas Department Transportation Projects now funded through Amendment 91 thanks to a legal challenge. No Drew or Desha County tax dollars raised through the amendment approved by Arkansas voters in 2012 had originally been allocated for projects in those counties. The $2,160,000 that will now partially fund the project through Amendment 91 had been allocated to the I-30 Crossing project in Little Rock until lead plaintiff attorneys Joe Denton and Justin Zachary filed suit on behalf of a small group of taxpayers. They claimed that it was not permissible to use those dollars to fund the Little Rock project under the wording of the amendment and the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed.
“Our challenge was about making sure those funds generated by Amendment 91 went to where Arkansas taxpayers intended when they approved the amendment,” said attorney Joe Denton of Denton and Zachary. “In this case, that means funding highway improvements in rural parts of the state where they’re sorely needed rather than consolidating the funds paid by citizens from across the state for a few large-scale projects in Little Rock that were clearly not permissible under the wording of the approved amendment.”
Drew and Desha County tax dollars raised as part of the amendment will now help fund local projects instead of seeing that money sent elsewhere in the state. In all, $121-million in Amendment 91 funds originally allocated to the ineligible I-30 Crossing project and an I-630 project in west Little Rock were re-allocated to other projects across Arkansas following the court’s ruling. In addition to the project in Drew and Desha Counties, four other projects funded in full or partially through re-allocated Amendment 91 funds are scheduled for 2022, including the Washington County Highway 112 project, Pulaski County Highway 10 project, Columbia County Highway 82 project and Pope County I-40 project.
“In addition to the satisfaction of seeing this money go to the projects that Arkansas voters intended it to fund, this challenge has been important because it affirmed the rights of every citizen to stand up and make their voice heard when they recognize a problem, even when that problem has to do with a state agency’s actions,” said Denton and Zachary attorney Justin Zachary.
“Transportation Infrastructure is a significant factor for business and industry,” Monticello Economic Development Commission Director Nita McDaniel stated. “In 2019, I approached the Arkansas Highway Commission with a request to change their plan for constructing the western portion of the I-69 bypass around Monticello, toward building this eastern piece of Interstate 69 which gives us a better route for moving freight through the southeast Arkansas region and better access across the Mississippi River for freight. The Highway Commission approved my request, after I worked hard to gain support from mayors, county judges, Southeast Arkansas Cornerstone Coalition, Yellow Bend Port Authority and Crossett Economic Development Foundation and made an in person presentation to the Commission with the request. There was approximately $48 million left in allocated funds for the I-69 corridor after the eastern portion of the Monticello bypass was constructed between US 425 South and US Highway 278 East. ArDOT allocated additional funds in their 2021-2024 State Transportation Improvement Plan for the project and it is scheduled to be advertised for bids this year (2022) with full funding since 2021. I do not know the impact of this case and the moving of Amendment 91 funds toward it since ArDOT Job # 020678 (I-69 east between Monticello and US Highway 65) had already been funded. MEDC will continue to advocate for additional investment toward completing I-69 in Arkansas.”
Once approved by voters in 2012, Amendment 91 instituted a 0.5 percent sales tax over 10 years that would help pay for the $1.8-billion Connecting Arkansas Program. The program was aimed at improving over 200 miles of state highways, but was limited to projects no wider than four lanes. The I-30 Crossing and I-630 projects in Little Rock involved six-lane roads which would be widened to 10 lanes in the case of I-30 and eight lanes in the case of I-630.
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