Top 20 Arkansas Highway Projects Survive Fiscal Cliff as AHTD Pares Down Roster

by George Waldon  on Monday, Apr. 28, 2014 12:00 am  

Work at the Interstate 630-430 interchange in west Little Rock, the No. 2 highway project in the state, is a year away from completion.

Contracts totaling $100.4 million recently were awarded for 70 highway improvement projects around Arkansas.

The dollar total could’ve topped $160 million if it weren’t for the looming shadow of the Fiscal Cliff.

“What was significant was what was not in there,” said Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department. “We had to pull 10 projects that should’ve been on the list.”

Until Congress stabilizes the Highway Trust Fund, the AHTD and its peer agencies around the nation are tightening the belt. Frugal budgeting is the order of the day with the uncertainty of federal funding.

“We have to make sure we have enough money to pay our existing contracts,” Ort said. “We’re not going to get into a contract we can’t fully pay. We’re a cash-flow agency. We have to spend the money before we can get reimbursed from the trust fund.”

Highway disbursements to Arkansas and other states, funded largely by the federal fuel tax of 18.3 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel, start diminishing in July heading toward the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30.

“There will be zero federal highway funding for all states starting Oct. 1,” Ort said. “Congress is working on a new six-year bill, but short term, something has to be done very quickly to shore up the Highway Trust Fund.”

He estimates that $500 million worth of highway work in the state hangs in the balance.

Four of the larger Arkansas projects delayed by the federal funding crunch are paving the Cash bypass on Highway 226 in Craighead County, building a new Roosevelt Road (U.S. Highway 70) viaduct in Little Rock, widening 5 miles of U.S. 167 north of Batesville and widening 1.5 miles of U.S. 63 in Lawrence County between Portia and the new Black River Bridge at Black Rock.

Two of the projects among the 20 largest active highway contracts in Arkansas are overseen by firms most known for general contracting work.

Ideal Construction Co. of Crossett has done highway work for more than 15 years.

“It’s real capital intense, and you need a lot of equipment,” said Mike Webb, president of Ideal Construction.



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