Thursday, May 23, 2013

Arkansas Highway and Transportation Director Speaks to SEA Cornerstone Coalition

The Southeast Arkansas Cornerstone Coalition conducted its annual banquet Tuesday, May 21 on the campus of UAM.  The event took place in the Gibson Student Center.  The Coalition consists of the counties of Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Desha, and Drew.  Participants include representatives of local governments, private business, and non-profit groups.  Mike Smith of Crossett serves as President of the board.

Scott Kuttenkuler of UAM who serves as Vice President-programs for the Coalition gave the welcome and President Mike Smith updated those in attendance on activities and plans of the Cornerstone to develop and grow the region.  Zack Tucker executive director of the Coalition made comments concerning the career website and leadership class.

Keynote speaker of the evening was Arkansas Highway and Transportation Director Scott Bennett.  Mr. Bennett was introduced by Highway Commissioner Robert Moore, Jr. of Arkansas City.  As the newest appointee to the commission, Mr. Moore provided updates on highway projects in Southeast Arkansas.  He specifically discussed I-69 and rail to the Cypress Bend Port.

Scott Bennett covered the current status of the Arkansas Highway system and what it will take to make improvements and expansion.  He reported Arkansas has 16,430 miles of state highways but only $58,536 per mile to maintain the system.  Completion of the I-530 connector from Pine Bluff to Highway 278 will cost around $603,000,000.  He further stated over 50% of available revenue for highways in Arkansas comes from the Federal Government.  Mr. Bennett stated that Arkansas needs an additional $200,000,000 per year to maintain current highways.

In specific comments about I-69, Mr. Bennet stated the total project going through numerous states consists of 2730 miles and will cost $22 billion.  Arkansas's portion of I-69 is 185 miles and will cost $2.4 billion.

He concluded his remarks saying Arkansas spends $5,000,000 per year picking up litter on the highways.  Director Bennett thanked the Coalition for the invitation to speak and asked everyone to consider ways to increase highway dollars for construction.  Fuel efficient cars continue cause revenue to decline compared to the increasing cost of construction.

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