Thursday, February 04, 2010

Our Archaic and Dishonest Highway District System

NOTE: Names of commissioners on the map don't necessarily mean they were serving during the period (97-07)in which the data for this report applies.
State Representative Donna Hutchinson (R, Bella Vista) gave some infuriating information on the state's archaic and unfair state highway system. In my view, the system is holding the state back. It's unjust, and it's even counter productive. I'd like to share with you a few pointers from her presentation:

1. Above you see the lines of the 10 districts. Although it was not originally set up this way, each member of the highway commission represents two districts. The lines were laid out in 1935 when Arkansas had seven Congressmen (note the comment that disputes this point).

2. Since then, the population has changed, but the district lines have not. What this means is gross under-representation of some districts and the reverse in others. District six has almost five times the population of three.

3. The State Highway Commission gets 2/3rds of the state fuel tax for their use. They decide how to spend most of this money, which adds up to billions of dollars in the last decade.

4. There is a clear correlation between under-represented regions and underfunded regions. From 1997-2007 discretionary funds spend by the Highway Department ranged from $195 per household per year in district 3 to just $40.90 a year in district six and a pitiful $18.49 per household per year in district four. ****There is some dispute about who was over these districts during the time in question so I have withdrawn a sentence about it naming a name***** The weak numbers in 4 and 9 represent the Republican northwest part of the state being looted by the rest of the state which tends Democrat.

5. 80% of the most congested roads are in the districts with the least per household funding. Instead of giving more help to the areas with the worst roads, they actually siphon money out of those areas in order to spend it in districts that are already the best funded.


In a personal note, I don't even think that the current Highway Commission system works well in the areas that are looting the northwest. When I lived in El Dorado almost everybody wanted a four lane to Little Rock. But the highway commissioner from our district was from Warren and what we got was a shiny new (and little used) road from El Dorado to Warren.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please get your facts straight and lets not cherry pick the information. As someone close to the issue here, The Highway Department as it is now known did not even exist in 1935. Back then Arkansas had road improvement districts, much smaller than the Districts as shown. District lines have changed in the past using county lines or significant natural barriers when changed. It was not until the mid 1950's that the Highway Commission as it is now known existed. The commissioners were based upon the 5congressional districts at that time. Now we only have 4 so the fifth commissioner is at large. All which are appointed by the Governor.

You have cherry picked discretionary funds. They are only a minor part of the entire funding for roads in Arkansas. Use total funding.

Jonathan Barnett was not the commisioner for Districts 4 and 6, but 4 and 9. It was only a few years ago that South Arkansas was fussing about the lack of road work that was needed to bring prosperity to a poverty area.

The Republican comment of "being looted by the rest of the state" is a poor arguement, considering 3 of the sitting commissioners were appointed by a Republican Governor.

Also to be fair one needs to consider the number of miles of roads to maintain when funding is distributed. If you can't get the farm to the market, the populated areas would have another problem.

The basic problem is insufficient funds. The main funding for the highway system are license fees and gas taxes. Gas taxes do not increase with inflation or the price of fuel. Under the current revenue structure,only if more fuel is used will highways receive more funding. When people buy vehicles that go farther on a gallon of fuel, which is what we all are doing now, highway funding is reduced and congestion cannot be adequately solved.

6:39 PM, February 04, 2010  
Anonymous Mark M said...

If my facts are wrong I want to know it so I can correct or eject. But I am not going to concede that on an anonymous post when my source is good. I got these facts from Rep. Donna Hutchinson, and the map from the highway department's own website. The graphic shows lines very much in accordance with what Rep. Hutchinson gave me. So what's your source?

You complain that "I" cherry picked discretionary funds. I'd like to know the figures for total funding. Do you have them? Let's hear it.

In the meantime discretionary funding is a good one to use because by definition the other funding is committed. Your are in essence saying I should give the commission credit for "fairly" distributing money that they had no power to distribute any other way. Isn't it a fairer test to measure them on how much was looted from the pile they could loot than to give them credit for honesty from a pile they did not have the ability to loot? Just asking...

If Mr. Barnett's districts are wrong in the information I have I will change or delete it.

I lived in South Arkansas, and they were always complaining about a lack of roads. I always thought that was in reverse order. NWA started with Wal-Mart and Tyson and the roads came because there was something at the end of those roads people needed to get to.

I understand that we need to account for miles of roads and not just numbers of people, but the system we have goes overboard on that. We have miles of lonely highway some places and miles of congestion every day in others.

7:32 PM, February 04, 2010  
Anonymous c.b. said...

Although district 3 consistently elects democrats at he state & local level, the large purportion of money spent in here has nothing to do with that.

It stems from two factors; 1. From 1993-2000 our district was represented by Jay Dickey (R) who sat on the House Appropriations Commitee and was very successful in getting earmarks for projects here.
2. When Jay was defeated by "Dolittle" Ross, several projects were threatened, such as 549 and the future I49 corridor. But the timely appointment of Prissy Hickerson to the Chair of the Highway Commisson, with her very strong personal ties to Huckabee and her tenacity in fighting to keep those funds are what resulted in, I would submit, the first investments in the infastructure of a district that had long been overlooked by the democrats.

The saddest result of Jay Dickey's loss was that I49 ground to a halt shortly after and if it was ever completed it would put eastern Arkansas right in a thoroughfare stretching from New Orleans to Canada. Which I'm pretty sure would help just about every district..........

1:05 AM, February 05, 2010  
Anonymous Chuck said...

Anonymous: get your own facts straight before chastising others for not doing so (Rachel Maddow's "preamble" debacle comes to mind here - check it out on YouTube for a good laugh). Insufficient funding is not the problem. Inefficient and borderline fraudulent spending is. Where fraud & inefficiency abounds, you can bet the farm the politicians will holler "insufficient funding" when the real problem is how and where it's being spent. Case in point: Arkansas schools constantly hollering for more money, when all the while we see less & less money going to the classroom and more & more going to administration and athletics. Have you ever wondered why most, if not all, interstates in AR are made of concrete, when asphalt provides a better ride, lasts longer, and is, in the long run, if done properly, more cost effective? Check out who lobbies in LR for and what are the connections to the concrete industry for the answer. Regardless of where the district boundaries are drawn, the Highway Commission was set up with the intent for it to be non-political, but as with many politicians' good intentions, the effect ends up being just the opposite. Also, check out land ownership of commissioners & their cronies in years past to see where many of our highways are directed, with bounty aplenty being paid to acquire rights-of-way.

12:44 PM, February 06, 2010  

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