An Opaque Sort of Transparency on Highway Bonds
"Everything is good, nothing to see here, just give us the money and move on"
The condescending approach, where they put out misleading and contradictory information and then tsk us for "not understanding" is wearing a bit thin. One gets the feeling that there is a lot they don't want us to understand. Just one example, Craig Douglass is a publicist for Move Arkansas Forward, the straw group thrown together by Highway Commissioner Madison Murphy and some contractors hoping to make money off of this bond deal. Here is what he told Washington County Tea Party Chairman Jeff Oland when Mr. Oland complained that the commission has often built highways and projects in the past in the wrong places....
"No new Interstate highways will be built with this program. It will only modernize approximately 300 miles of existing Interstates. It is, in fact, an accelerated maintenance and rehabilitation program designed to maximize the efficiency of modernizing Interstates sooner rather than later. The program will only fix what we currently have."
Meanwhile, the Stuttgart Daily Leader had this quote: "Arkansas County Judge Glenn “Sonny” Cox said, if the measure is approved, the state would eventually make the stretch a four-lane highway all the way through. He said county officials would then work on getting U.S. Hwy. 165 made into a four-lane highway. It’s a possibility that Stuttgart’s new overpass and bypass made into a reality."
They should get their stories straight. Not that any of that matters to Mr. Oland's point that people in under-represented portions of the state, like NWA, Central Arkansas, and the River Valley, should insist on reform in the way the Highway Commission is structured before approving new loans. It makes no sense to throw away your leverage for the next 15 years and get no reforms from a system that assigns representation like its 1936.
Now Rep. Nate Bell from Mena throws in his lot with the aggrieved and annoyed upper crust who are irritated at all the bother from us commoners, whose apparent function from their perspective is to shut up and fund their visions. Only recently, after being called out on it, has the Highway Commission given anything like the details needed for a proper evaluation of the plan to the public. Even the recent stories lack detail. "Improve nine interchanges." What does that mean, two new lanes or landscaping and flowers?
Bell answers the complaint of activists that there has been no map presented, that the Highway Commission and associates have given vague and contradictory statements about what this money would do, by pointing to a map that has a date of July on it. This is the map he holds up as evidence that the Commission has presented us "a map", as if it contained enough details about their plan to invalidate our complaint. I invite you to take a look at the one page map and tell me if you think it contains enough detail to justify approval of a $575 million loan. No bank would give you a 70K refi on your home with that little documentation.
The map is not even from the Highway Commission itself, but from "Move Arkansas Forward", so if they go "off the map" so to speak who is responsible? And they draw red lines all over the state and carefully label them "potential GARVEE projects." That's a lot of potential, but what are the order of priorities so that we can know who will be left out should the hints they are dropping to everyone about all the goodies they will get not pan out? And they make no distinction on this map on what is to be resurfaced, what is to be re-constructed, or even what if anything is to be widened.
The thing is, we are going to get money for roads anyway. We are going to get road improvements anyway. The only question is whether we should use that money on a pay as you go basis or pledge it against a loan and get a big pile of money to spend at once. Based on what I have seen, they don't seem ready to efficiently spend a big pile all at once.