Heavy-load road traffic associated with natural gas drilling in northwest Arkansas is causing highway damage that will cost much more to repair than the state highway department is receiving from the severance tax on gas.
A report prepared by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department and presented to the Arkansas Highway Commission last week said repairs would cost $218.7 million.
The General Assembly increased the severance tax on natural gas in 2008, with most of the revenue allocated to the highway department.
The department said its share of the state severance tax through May was $32 million.
When the measure was adopted two years ago, the agency’s allocation for fiscal 2010 was estimated at $47.4 million, with $20.2 million going to county and city transportation projects.
Highway director Dan Flowers said a preliminary estimate of damage to federal highways in the region would boost the repair total by at least $184 million.
“We have a major problem on our hands,” Flowers told highway commissioners.
The commission directed that the severance tax revenue be spent on the roads damaged by the drilling activity.
The report said nearly 540 miles of state roads in the 10-county area had some degree of damage, with almost 177 miles with major structural damage.
A recent study by the University of Arkansas said natural gas drilling in the region would generate $22 billion in economic activity from 2004, when exploration began, through 2012.