The Arkansas Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance last week hired two economists to help it determine the true cost of maintaining state roads at recommended levels.

The committee is charged with determining how to pay for improvements of state highways, county, roads and city streets. Responsibilities include development of a financing plan and preparation of enabling legislation for the 2011 Legislature.

Committee members said the economic analysis of highway funding should help convince the public and legislators that additional spending is needed.

The 19-member panel was created by the Legislature earlier this year.

Arkansas Department of Highway and Transportation officials said last month that the state needs an additional $200 million a year to keep the highway system at current levels.

Earlier, the highway department said it would need $23.4 billion over the next 10 years while revenues are expected to total $4 billion.

Economists Wayne Miller of the University of Arkansas and Greg Hamilton of the Institute for Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock proposed seven study areas, including the economic impact of highway construction and maintenance, and the benefits resulting from increased spending on highways.

Funding for Arkansas highways has increased by an average of 3.1% a year since 1982.

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