Scott Bennett is good at telling people what he does. He’s done it twice for the people of Faulkner County in the past few months, most recently for those attending the Vilonia Chamber of Commerce banquet.
Bennett, the director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, has been a bit of a fixture in the county, especially since major work has been going on Interstate 40 for the past year, widening it from Conway to Little Rock in an effort to alieve some of the traffic congestion. It is a man like Bennett, however, who can help persuade us into helping our own cause, especially when it came to the half-cent sales tax proposal in November.
Bennett praised the voters for passing Issue No. 1, which allowed for a temporary tax to go toward highway construction. The tax will go into effect July 1.
“This temporary, half-cent sales tax will support a $1.8 billion highway program,” Bennett said at the banquet. “The program will allow the continued construction of four-lane highways to connect all four corners of the state and widening existing highways to help ease congestion — all within the next 10 years.”
Focusing on Faulkner County and the Vilonia area, Bennett said the widening I-40 to six lanes between Little Rock and Conway and the widening Highway 67 to six lanes from Jacksonville to Cabot will be completed. Also, he said the widening of Highway 64 from Vilonia to Beebe will be done.
In addition, the tax will provide an estimated $700 million in turn back revenue for cities and counties. Faulkner County will receive about $8.5 million with Vilonia receiving about $700,000 in city turn back funds, he offered.
That’s a huge relief to those of us traversing these mean streets every day. As big as Conway and the surrounding municipalities are getting, there are still a large number of people who work in the metropolitan area of Little Rock. Being able to safely navigate that route five times a week is something that has been sorely needed, and being able to navigate it quickly in order to get home a little bit earlier will allow us to spend more time with our family and friends here in Faulkner County.
Bennett showed where we fall short in terms of providing for highway funds, but he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he showed how much has been done and how much could be done with the relatively little the department is given.
The work being done will help all of us ... down the road.