At its most recent meeting, the Highway Commission opened bids on two construction projects – one to replace a bridge on Interstate 30 in southwest Arkansas and another to widen Interstate 49 in northwest Arkansas.
Bids on another nine projects were not opened because highway officials continue to have serious questions about the future of federal highway funding.
In a statement, the director of the Highway Department called it "sad" that bids for only two projects were opened at this time of year, the traditional peak season for highway construction.
The federal government is working under a temporary two-month extension to the previous highway funding bill. In all, Arkansas has postponed 70 highway projects, which would have cost an estimated $282 million, because of doubts about future highway funding.
If not for voter approval of two recent highway programs, the Highway Commission possibly would not have opened any bids.
Funding of the I-49 project comes from a half-cent sales tax that will be collected for 10 years, with the revenue dedicated to highway projects. It’s called the Connecting Arkansas Program, and voters approved it in a statewide election in 2012.
The I-30 project will be paid for with bonds issued through an interstate maintenance program approved by Arkansas voters in 2011.
The southwest Arkansas project is to replace the I-30 bridge over the Red River, which is the border between Hempstead and Miller Counties. The low bid was for $37 million to replace the bridge. It is 1,294 feet long and was built in 1967.
About 23,000 vehicles a day cross the Red River on the I-30 bridge. Replacing the bridge, which also requires earth work, new drainage and replacement of about two miles of highway, will take about two years to complete.
The northwest Arkansas project, which will cost an estimated $28.3 million, is to widen a much busier stretch of interstate, a 3.85 mile section of Interstate 49 in Washington County, in Fayetteville and Springdale. The traffic count on this section of I-49 is 66,000 vehicles a day.
It will be widened from four lanes to six lanes and will take about a year and a half to finish.
The Highway Commission opened bids for numerous smaller projects on city and county roads, which are financed mainly from their share of motor fuel taxes. Traditionally, special revenues for highways have been divided according to a "70-15-15" split, which means the state receives 70 percent while cities and counties each receive 15 percent.
In all, bids for 54 local city and county projects were opened. Their estimated cost will be $19 million. For comparison, the two interstate projects that were opened will cost a total of $65.5 million.
The apparent low bids will be reviewed carefully by Highway Department officials before the agency signs contracts.
Medicaid Inspector General Resigns
Jay Shue, the state’s first Medicaid Inspector General, has resigned and will be replaced by Elizabeth Smith. The legislature created the position in 2013 to take the lead in investigating Medicaud fraud.
Since the office was created, the amount recovered by the state went up from $1.1 million to $3 million.