Arkansas Supreme Court rules on I-30 project

December 2020/January 2021

Keith Goble

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In the days leading up to a Nov. 3 vote on whether to extend collection of a sales tax to aid highway work, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that revenue from the tax cannot be used to cover costs to widen Interstate 30 in central Arkansas.

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.

Voters decided last month to permanently extend collection of the sales tax.

Court decision

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.” LL

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Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.