DALLAS — A $1.3 billion network of bond-financed highways linking major cities in Arkansas would enhance the state's economy and quality of life, proponents said in a study released Tuesday at a news conference in Little Rock.

Voters will decide Nov. 6 on a 10-year, 0.5% sales tax hike to support $1.3 billion of state bonds to build the four-lane system. Cities and counties would also share $700 million of the additional revenues for local road efforts.  

The study by the Washington-based The Road Information Program Inc., known as TRIP, identified 40 highway projects with the most economic benefit to the state.

All the targeted projects would be completed in 10 years if the sales tax hike is approved next week, said Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

Mark Lamberth, co-chairman of the Move Arkansas Forward committee that supports the road bond measure, said existing transportation needs outstrip the state's current resources.

"Arkansas has many more road and bridge needs than it has dollars to put towards maintenance repair or replacement," he said.  "A healthy transportation system is vital to the growth of the state's economic vitality, but the state needs adequate funding to ensure that we move in the right direction."

Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP, said the road construction effort would create jobs immediately. The improved accessibility and mobility provided by a more efficient highway system would provide an economic edge for many years, he said.

"Investing in these transportation projects will be key to long-term economic growth and quality of life in Arkansas," he said. "Private sector jobs will be created in the short term, resulting in transportation, improvements from which the state's residents, businesses, and tourists will benefit for decades."

Eighteen of the 40 projects would be financed with the bonds supported by the temporary sales tax increase, and 17 will be built through state highway taxes and federal grants.

Five of the projects are slated to be completed with proceeds from September's sale of $225 million of grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds. The sale was the first tranche from a $575 million Garvee program authorized by voters in November 2011.

Arkansas's highway bonds are rated Aa1 by Moody's Investors Service and AA by Standard & Poor's.

The constitutional amendment listed as Ballot Issue No. 1 would allocate 70% of the annual  revenue from the 0.5% tax to the state's four-lane highway program, with 30% shared by counties and cities.

The temporary tax is expected to generate $230 million a year, with $160 million going to the state and $70 million split equally between cities and counties.

The amendment would also create a city street fund financed with 1 cent of the existing state motor fuels tax similar to an existing state road fund for counties. Annual revenue is estimated at $20 million.

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