Road Construction off Interstate 40 in Conway, Arkansas

The sad state of politics and governance at the federal level makes you feel foolish for even getting frustrated when things go wrong. But here we are, feeling frustrated – and foolish.

Congress has not passed a long-term (traditionally six years) highway bill since 2005. They’ve passed a series of one-year extensions since 2011. The most recent “extension” was for a whopping two months. It is set to expire at the end of the month.

The key issue, of course, is how to pay for it. Historically, the federal gas tax has supported the highway trust fund. Improved fuel efficiency has made that revenue inadequate.

This is not a recent crisis. The highway trust fund has been subsidized with more than $60 billion in general revenue since 2008. It’s either been a decade of denial and procrastination or a decade of gridlock and debate. Either way, the end result is a lack of results.

Congressional antics aside, how does this affect Conway? When it became clear that funds would likely not be available after July 31, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) had no choice but to cancel the scheduled paving bid for our new southern interchange.

That’s right – the one at mile marker 132 that is more than halfway complete. The one the city has already put $2.8 million of local street funds into.

The City of Conway held up its end of the bargain. It set aside funds to build an interchange in partnership with AHTD (who is reimbursed by the feds). It allocated those funds and did everything it was supposed to do. It did this with city-sized resources and resolve.

Congress has federal-sized resources but is short on resolve. The end result is that we will likely miss our peak construction season and may see a delay of a year or longer.

Those local funds could have been put to work in countless ways within our local street system. Instead, that money is tied up in our own bridge to nowhere.

It’s hard to tell who cares about the nuts and bolts of governance anymore. But it is getting easier to tell who doesn’t.

Interstate 40 in Conway, Arkansas

This article appeared in the July 2015 issue of the
Faulkner County Business Journal.