Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

TOP STORY>>Projects wait for stimulus funding

Leader senior staff writer

The widening of Graham Road, of Brockington Road and Cabot ramp improvements at the Hwy. 67/167-Hwy. 5 interchange all stand to benefit from passage of the economic stimulus package, according to Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan.

Everything is speculation right now. One expert told Metroplan that predicting the amount of money that will be available in the final package was like trying to call the final score of a basketball game at halftime.

McKenzie likened it to a kaleidoscope with many moving parts, where a small change can alter the picture.

“We’ll know more by Presidents Day,” McKenzie said.

At the moment, Metroplan staff think Arkansas will receive about $372 million for highways, of which about $12.7 million could go to central Arkansas.

In the House version of the stimulus bill, about $30 billion will go to the nation’s highways.

One stimulus scenario would use the new money to widen Brockington Road, Cabot ramp improvements, a rail-grade separation in Salem near Benton and a Pike Avenue roundabout in North Little Rock.

That would free up about $6.2 million in Surface Transportation Program funds previous committed to those projects.

That money could be used to fund the Graham Road widening at Jacksonville, the Military Road project at Benton, and additional funding for the south loop project south of Little Rock.

Those jobs are “on a list of projects closest to ready to enable us to capture all the funds available,” McKenzie said. The stimulus package will set limits on how quickly the projects must start. That and the total amount of money available will help define which projects can be funded.

“We want to leverage the stimulus money,” he said.

The big-ticket items in central Arkansas, like the North Belt Freeway and the I-430/I-630 interchange, are nowhere near shovel ready and thus not eligible for any stimulus money at this point, McKenzie said.

It could all be a moot point if Congress doesn’t also fund the federal highway trust fund.

Transportation Weekly reported that the House bill would apportion the money among the states using the same distribution formula used for the regular fiscal year 2008 highway appropriation.

Fifty-five percent of that money would be allocated to the state highway departments of transportation, with the balance, 45 percent, subdivided in the same fashion as the surface transportation program.

That 45 percent would be divided with 62.5 percent of it allocated to individual areas within a state by population with the 37.5 percent remaining at the discretion of state departments of transportation.