What to do about crumbling roads?

Op-ed piece by Michael John Gray
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 11/04/17


The condition of a state's infrastructure says a lot about where its priorities lie.

Having well-kept roads and sturdy bridges is about more than aesthetics. It's about more than widening a state capital's freeway to six lanes to shave off a minute or two on the commute home. Having usable roads and bridges shows the state cares about two things: the economy and public safety.

The economics are simple, especially in a state like Arkansas where our rural communities and trucking industry necessitate a sound infrastructure to transport our goods and services.

More importantly and less talked about, however, is that investing in infrastructure is a matter of public safety.

But it's come to Arkansans' attention over the years, and especially recently, that our infrastructure needs many improvements, to say the least. It has also come to our attention that the money to pay for these much-needed improvements is nowhere to be found.

The Legislature's meager five-year plan doesn't nearly cover our state's needs, the governor refused to take a stand on a legislative solution in the last session, and a long-term funding plan to be presented to the voters of Arkansas via ballot initiative and carried by my Republican colleague, Rep. Dan Douglas, was rejected at the behest of the governor.

So, what do we do now? Nothing is not an option.

The bridges our kids go over on school buses are on the verge of collapse; the highways our families take on road trips look like patchwork quilts; the rural roads our teens drive home from work on at night have no rumble strips and no shoulders.

Nothing is not an option.

This is an issue of public safety. And what do we do when there's a rising risk to public safety? We devote all of our resources to solving the problem immediately and minimizing risk to the public. After all, that's the No. 1 priority of any government--the safety of its citizens.

Our crumbling infrastructure should be treated no differently. Alarm bells should have gone off when this paper printed earlier this year that two of my colleagues admitted bridges would have to collapse and accidents would have to worsen before any action is taken to adequately fund our infrastructure needs.

If this were allowed to happen, it would constitute a great moral failure as leaders in the Arkansas state Legislature.

Therefore, it is up to us--the members of the state Legislature--to do the hard, nitty-gritty work of coming up with an agreement to address this issue and address it promptly.

Director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation Scott Bennett recently testified to the urgency of our infrastructure needs and for the state Legislature to be the ones addressing these concerns. I am in agreement with Mr. Bennett's position--legislators are elected to make the tough decisions. That is why I believe Gov. Asa Hutchinson must call a special session to diligently pursue a bipartisan deal to adequately fund our highways.

Not doing so is dangerous, and it will be much more costly in the end.

The math alone should make this simple: It costs $100,000 per lane mile now to resurface one mile of highway. It will cost $1.5 million per mile to rebuild that same stretch of road if we wait too long to fix it. So what are we waiting for? The cost to go up? The death toll to rise?

I say we wait for neither of these terrible outcomes and come together to properly and promptly invest in our roads and bridges. It's what we were elected to do.

We should all come together on this issue and rebuild Arkansas' future.

Michael John Gray represents District 47 in the Arkansas House, and is chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
Editorial on 11/04/2017
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