An Arkansas Supreme Court ruling on Thursday (Oct. 29) declared that an existing half-cent sales tax for state highways could not be spent on a $1 billion widening project on Interstate 30 known as 30 Crossing.
The state’s high court ruled that a sales tax approved by voters in 2012, Amendment 91, could not be used on highways with more than four lanes. 30 Crossing proposed to add six lanes of surface highway to ease congestion around downtown Little Rock. A lawsuit brought by a number of environmentalists has been opposing the massive infrastructure project.
The Supreme Court ruling reversed and remanded a lower court ruling by a Pulaski County judge.
“On appeal, they argue that the plain and unambiguous language of Amendment 91 demonstrates that the funds generated by the amendment are to be used to construct and improve four-lane highways; the circuit court erred by looking outside the language of Amendment 91 and the ballot title to ascertain voters’ intent… there is no interpretation to go on except the clear and unambiguous language of Amendment 91,” the court ruled.
“The repeated reference to ‘four-lane highways’ and the lack of a specific reference to six-lane interstate highways means the Amendment 91 funds cannot be used for the latter,” the court also said in its ruling.
The Arkansas Highway Commission issued a statement late on Thursday expressing disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision.
“While we respect the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling regarding Amendment 91 funds as they relate to the Interstate 630 and 30 Crossing projects, the decision itself is a disappointing one. We will now work with our co-defendants to determine how to advance regarding this case. This ruling emphasizes now, more than ever, the need for flexibility in funding dedicated to improve the State’s roads and bridges,” the highway commission statement said.
“The 30 Crossing project is an integral part of the Connecting Arkansas Program as a central connector in our overall vision for Arkansas that was promised in 2012. Interstate 30 through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock is the highest volume corridor in the state with 120,000 vehicles per day. The design was based on many community meetings and public hearings over an 18-month period conducted by ARDOT, and was the result of much negotiation and compromise,” the commission further said. “30 Crossing is an important improvement that was promised in 2012 to Arkansas voters. The AHC and ARDOT will begin investigating alternative ways to fund this project consistent with the Supreme Court’s order.”