Hurry Up and Borrow For What We Have Already Overbuilt
On November 8th Arkansans will be asked to go to the polls and give the State Highway Commission permission to load about $575 million dollars of additional debt onto the backs of Arkansas taxpayers. That's about $2,000 of additional debt for each taxpaying household in the state. We should deny them this permission. While the state does have legitimate highway needs, they can best be addressed on a pay-as-you-go basis. Handing them over $500 million dollars in one big pile simply encourages them to do what they did last time- overbuild new highway mileage at the expense of routine maintenance.
Arkansas is actually has an excessive amount of highway miles compared to other states. If building more roads was the key to more jobs, we would already have them. Consider these statistics.
Among the states, Arkansas is smaller than average in geographic size (29th out of 50), even smaller than that in relative population, (32nd out of 50), and 34th out of 50 in GDP. In public road mileage however, Arkansas ranks 17th in the nation. Of the sixteen states with more road miles than Arkansas, only two are anywhere near as small as Arkansas in terms of geography, population, or GDP. That would be Kansas and Iowa, two states who can make a highway dollar stretch much farther than we can due to their benevolent topography and geology.
The facts are very clear. Arkansas is not "under-highwayed" compared to other states. In fact, Arkansas taxpayers already face a burden of maintaining a volume of road miles that is far out of proportion to the resources of the state's working families. We have lots of miles, but those miles are often built in the wrong place- leaving high growth areas with congestion. That's likely a function of a State Highway Commission that is flawed in principle and archaic in structure (it's representation is based on population patterns in 1936). If they get more money without reforming the system, then they won't reform the system.
(Editors Note: I am no longer sure of the number of miles that have been added since 1999. )
The system is such that commissioners are more incentivized to build new miles than they are to do maintenance.
The best defense against this tendency is to allot highway money on a pay-as-you-go basis.