Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I-69 Coalition Meeting

Dan Flowers
A meeting of the Arkansas I-69 Coalition, a group organized to promote the development of the I-69 interstate through Arkansas, meet for an update and planning session May 9th at the Saddie Johnson Center in Monticello, Arkansas.  Attendees from several counties of South Arkansas were present along with representatives of Louisiana and Mississippi.

The meeting was called to order by Dan Flowers, former head of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, who is serving as a volunteer coordinator of the Arkansas I-69 group.  A welcome was given by Drew County Judge Robert Akin, (I).  Highway Commissioner Robert Moore, who represents Southeast Arkansas on the Highway Commission made comments and introduced Lori Tudor, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.  Ms. Tudor presented a detailed status report on the I-69 project.


Robert Moore and Lori Tudoe
Ms. Tudor told those attending that the entire project covers 2730 miles from Canada to Mexico.  It is estimated to cost $30 billion to complete and that massive federal help is the only way to make it a reality.  The Arkansas portion of the interstate is 180 miles in length and will cost some 3.6 billion dollars.  The bridge across the Mississippi River near McGehee will cost around $1.3 billion.
Arkansas must provide $910 million for the bridge.  She went o to say all studies show the interstate will benefit Southeast Arkansas economically and from a safety standpoint.
Congressman Bruce Westerman

The group was then addressed by Fourth District Congressman Bruce Westerman, (R).  He spoke of his support for all the highway projects in Arkansas and especially the I-69 and I-69 connector highways through South Arkansas.  He stated that their is talk by the Trump Administration of pursuing a trillion dollar infrastructure program to provide funding for projects such as I-69.  He said making a case for I-69 is easy, but nothing will be done until tax reform is accomplished.  He did not explain how tax reform will make a trillion dollars available for infrastructure or what tax reform consist of.

Congressman Westerman told the organization that he believes the Congress should go back to allowing earmarks for projects in order for the congress to be able to constitutionally legislate how money is spent.  Earmarks have been eliminated by congress due to the unhappiness of some members over the type projects earmarked.  The Congressman stated that he did not want administration staff determining what projects receive funding.

It was pointed out to Congressman Westerman several times that the I-69 project in Arkansas is "shovel ready" meaning all environmental studies are complete and right of way has been purchased.  It is ready for construction, when money is available.  

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