Better Roads Benefit Arkansas Consumers

Craig Douglass Commentary

Better Roads Benefit Arkansas Consumers
Craig Douglass

A road to nowhere? Hardly. The recent voter approval of short-term highway projects in Arkansas is building roads that will lead to more jobs, a better economy and consumer benefits, including reduced cost for the transportation of goods and services, making for more predictable pricing at retail.

Consumers also benefit from new highway and bridge construction through reduced congestion and travel times, less wear and tear on cars and trucks, safer trips and greater efficiency in improving the connections from one marketplace — city, town or county — to another.

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Political polling and focus group research indicate consumers have a peculiar connection with state highways, county roads, city streets and the bridges linking them. There seems to be almost a relationship of sorts between the road user and the road; users know the daily condition of the roads they travel and every turn along the routes that unite consumers with stores and shops, friends, family, schools, hospitals and all manner of professional services. Consumers also seem to understand the importance of adequate and efficient transportation.

The idea of better “connectivity” also impacts Arkansas consumers, as it does in other rural states. Studies show new highway construction and improvements to existing roadways accelerate regional connectivity through increased transportation efficiency. This helps break down economic isolation in more rural areas of the state due to the lack of convenient access to a major roadway. A greater interchange of commerce across the state helps consumers’ ability to locate, compare and shop for goods and services outside their immediate trade area. And that works both ways, research shows, as the reduced cost of transportation because of greater efficiency leaves more money in the bank accounts of consumers, which can then be used at local businesses.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I had the opportunity and honor to work with the Move Arkansas Forward Committee, the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department and the Arkansas Highway Commission on the passage by more than 80 percent of Arkansas voters of the Interstate Rehabilitation Program in November 2011, and Issue No. 1, which was passed by 58 percent of Arkansas voters in this year’s General Election. During those campaigns, we made it a point to communicate the direct benefits to Arkansans of highway construction. This included the increase through these programs of local revenue to cities and counties for road and street improvements, and the fact that for every $1 billion in highway construction, 27,800 Arkansas jobs are created, supported or maintained. More private-sector jobs, increased payrolls and improved commerce are consumer issues, directly impacting the economy and creating greater transaction volume at retail, keeping supply and demand in balance and prices stable.

The two programs will last between six and eight years, and though they are but short-term fixes for highway funding, they nevertheless will temporarily help improve the Arkansas economy.

Overall, consumers are bullish on the economy, and have demonstrated a certain amount of resilience as economic indicators ebb and flow. Couple that economic bullishness with an opportunity to demonstrate through their votes support for ballot issues that have the promise of adding value to their everyday lives through job creation and economic advancement, and even the most cynical political observer sees a winning combination. I guess you could say exercising a vote in this context could be viewed as politically paying it forward.

We all look for a good return on our various investments — whether an investment in time, the purchase of goods and services, paying taxes or our vote at the polls. There should be little debate that investing taxpayer dollars in highway construction programs yields one of the most rewarding returns on investment, as the Federal Highway Administration reports that for every dollar invested in highway construction, the local economy receives $5.60 in economic benefit, a return on investment of more than 500 percent.

In 2013, Arkansas economic activity should continue to pick up due to new statewide construction programs that create and support private-sector jobs. More jobs and more money in the pockets of Arkansas consumers will also improve revenue collections derived from sales and income taxes supporting state programs, allowing all Arkansans to benefit from roads leading to economic vitality.

Craig Douglass is a Little Rock-based advertising agency owner and marketing and research consultant. He is president of Craig Douglass Communications Inc.