Suit chal­lenges high­way project fund­ing

The Sentinel-Record - - HOT SPRINGS/FYI -

LIT­TLE ROCK — Five Arkansas res­i­dents have filed a law­suit to chal­lenge whether a large part of fund­ing can be spent on a $630 mil­lion project to im­prove the In­ter­state 30 cor­ri­dor through Lit­tle Rock and North Lit­tle Rock.

The law­suit filed Wed­nes­day con­tends that Con­nect­ing Arkansas Pro­gram money can’t be spent on In­ter­state 30 be­cause it’s a six-lane high­way, the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette re­ported. The law­suit ar­gues that Amend­ment 91, which gov­erns the money spent un­der Con­nect­ing Arkansas, lim­its the pro­gram to only fund im­prove­ments to four-lane high­ways or two-lane high­ways that are widened to four lanes.

Vot­ers in 2012 ap­proved Amend­ment 91, which in­creased the state sales tax by half a per­cent for 10 years to help fund the Con­nect­ing Arkansas Pro­gram. The pro­gram funds re­gion­ally sig­nif­i­cant high­way projects and is con­tribut­ing about $448 mil­lion for the I-30 project.

But the law­suit con­tends that the I-30 project, which widens a six-lane high­way to 10 lanes, doesn’t meet the amend­ment stan­dards to re­ceive the pro­gram’s sales-tax pro­ceeds.

“As the 30 Cross­ing is pro­posed right now, I’m not say­ing the High­way Depart­ment can’t get funds from some­where else, but they can’t use the funds they are cur­rently us­ing through the Con­nect­ing Arkansas Pro­gram,” said at­tor­ney Justin Zachary, who filed the law­suit on be­half of the five res­i­dents. The lead plain­tiff, Richard Ma­son, is a ge­ol­o­gist, de­vel­oper and a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Arkansas Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion.

The law­suit also claims that Amend­ment 91 pro­hibits the pro­ceeds from be­ing spent on an on­go­ing project to widen part of In­ter­state 630 in Lit­tle Rock from six lanes to eight lanes. The Con­nect­ing Arkansas Pro­gram is con­tribut­ing about $58 mil­lion to the I-630 project, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

The law­suit seeks a judg­ment that spend­ing the sales-tax pro­ceeds on the projects is un­con­sti­tu­tional, and re­quests any money spent on the projects to be re­turned.

The law­suit names as de­fen­dants five mem­bers of the Arkansas High­way Com­mis­sion; Arkansas Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment Di­rec­tor Scott Ben­nett; state Trea­surer Den­nis Mil­li­gan; state Au­di­tor An­drea Lee; Arkansas Depart­ment of Fi­nance and Ad­min­is­tra­tion Di­rec­tor Larry Walther; and Gov. Asa Hutchin­son.

Hutchin­son’s spokesman, J.R. Davis, said the gover­nor de­clined to com­ment on the law­suit.

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