The Arkansas Department of Highways and Transportation will focus initially on improving traffic flow along Interstate 30 if voters approve $1.3 billion of general obligation bonds for roadwork next year.

Voters in November 2012 will be asked to approve a 10-year, 0.5% sales tax increase to support the bonds.

DHT director Scott Bennett told the Arkansas Highway Commission last week the first project to be financed with the proposed bonds would be a widening of I-30 to 10 lanes in the Little Rock area.

The project will include replacement of an Arkansas River bridge linking Little Rock and North Little Rock.

Bennett said the widening work would cost about $300 million.

All the projects financed with the bonds would be awarded within five years, he said.

Jim McKenzie, the agency’s executive director, said there are six highways merging and diverging in a six-mile span of the highway. It is the mostly heavily traveled highway segment in the state, he said.

If the tax increase is approved by voters, the highway department expects to receive $160 million a year over the levy’s 10-year life, or 70% of the revenue.

Proceeds of the bonds must be used to build four-lane highways or add capacity to existing highways.

Arkansas cities and counties will split the remaining 30% of the revenues, or about $40 million a year.

Commission chairman R. Madison Murphy said it will be “an uphill battle” to win passage of the tax increase, but was confident it would win approval.

“I can’t think of a better use of a half-cent sales tax than what I’ve seen today,” he said. “If you have a defined program, clearly articulated, well laid out and well presented, people will get it.”

Arkansas voters in November renewed a highway modernization proposal that will allow the state to issue $575 million of grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds to finance projects on up to 400 miles of the state’s 650 miles of Interstate highway.

The Garvee bonds will be supported through federal highway grants and an existing 4 cent per gallon state tax on diesel fuel.

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