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ArDOT Hosts Public Meeting In Fort Smith To Discuss Proposal To Extended Sales Tax For Highway Projects

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) will host 12 public meetings across the state through April on the extension of a ha...

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) will host 12 public meetings across the state through April on the extension of a half-cent sales tax for highway projects.

ArDOT also will receive feedback on which projects to be funded by the money generated from the tax.

Residents gathered at the Blue Lion in Fort Smith Thursday (Feb. 13) to hear about Governor Asa Hutchinson's long-range highway funding plan.

“Whether you vote for it or whether you vote against it we want people to understand the facts and vote based on the facts and not necessarily an emotional issue,” said Randy Ort, spokesman for ArDOT.

The existing tax generates nearly $300 million annually — $205 million for ArDOT, $43 million for cities and $43 million for counties. About the same amount would be generated if the tax extension is approved. Voters in the Nov. 3, 2020, general election will decide whether to extend the tax.

“It will become a permanent revenue source for state highway improvements, county road improvements and city street improvements all around the state,” Ort said.

Ort says that if voters choose not to pass issue one it will eliminate the current revenue levels for counties and cities which total $90 million.

“Talk to the mayors and county judges in this area and they're going to tell you that they’re going to lose about 30% of their road and bridge budget,” Ort said.

At the meeting, local groups were there to ask about how specific plans can be completed.

“How can we assist in getting some of this infrastructure that’s really needed for the region done,” said Reese Brewer, Director of Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Others were there to support the economic benefits of this plan.

“That’s a great economic impact not just bringing in jobs for the people working on the projects but also bringing in people because our road systems are good you can move products easier,” said Amy Rogers, Vice President of Bridge Sales at W&W.

Ort says the ultimate goal of the discussions is to educate, and they believe that goal was met in Fort Smith.

“We want people to start getting educated on that. What’s gonna happen if issue one passes what's gonna happen if issue one fails,” Ort said.

The meeting in Fort Smith was ArDOT's sixth of 12 scheduled meetings throughout the state. The next one in our area will be on March 10 at the Jones Center in Springdale.

Click here for more information and a list of meetings from Talk Business & Politics.