Arkansas Supreme Court rules on I-30 project
November 3, 2020
Arkansas voters head to the ballot box today to decide whether to extend collection of a sales tax to aid highway work. The vote comes only days after the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled the tax revenue cannot be used to cover costs to widen Interstate 30 in central Arkansas.
The state’s highest court has ruled that the Arkansas Department of Transportation cannot use money collected via a 0.5% sales tax for projects beyond four-lane roadways.
The I-30 project, also known as 30 Crossing, would widen the roadway from six lanes to eight or more lanes.
2012 bond approval
Approved by voters in 2012, Amendment 91 to the state’s constitution specifies that revenue from the 0.5% sales tax could not be used on “state highways and bridges, county roads, bridges and other surface transportation” with more than four lanes.
Despite the language covering the exclusion of roadways with more than four lanes, the state DOT moved forward with plans to apply tax revenue for the 30 Crossing project around downtown Little Rock. The project has a $1 billion price tag.
The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on a challenge to the 30 Crossing project’s inclusion for funds via the sales tax. The court ruled that Amendment 91 “explicitly specifies how the temporary tax may be spent.”
“The repeated reference to ‘four-lane highways’ and the lack of a specific reference to six-lane interstate highways means the Amendment 91 funds cannot be used for the latter,” the court ruling states.
The court continued that the term “four-lane highway” appears more than 30 times in the amendment. Additionally, the phrase is “given a specific meaning that is plain and unambiguous.”
Arkansas Highway Commission officials issued a statement calling the court decision “disappointing.”
“This ruling emphasizes now, more than ever, the need for flexibility in funding dedicated to improve the state’s roads and bridges,” the statement said.
The commission further said “the AHC and ARDOT will begin investigating alternative ways to fund this project consistent with the Supreme Court’s order.”
Tuesday’s bond vote
Voters in the state are deciding today whether to continue collection of the one-half cent sales tax to cover a $1.3 billion bond issue for roads and bridges.
In place since 2013, the tax collection has a sunset date of July 1, 2023.
Issue 1 would continue to direct two-thirds of the revenue, or $205 million annually, to the Arkansas DOT to help address repairs and construction of state highways and bridges. Cities and counties would again split the rest, or $44 million yearly, for county roads, and city streets and bridges.
Approval of the extension would amend the state’s constitution to make the tax permanent. LL