Toll Roads in Arkansas? An Idea in the Works

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR - A possible interstate project that would cost nearly a billion dollars has brought in the prospect of tolling drivers on Interstate 40.

It's not a sure thing right now, but just the thought has some drivers wanting the state to pump the brakes on this notion.

The tolls would help fund an I-40 expansion project from North Little Rock all the way to West Memphis.

Under the proposed plan, if a typical driver wanted to make the whole trip down I-40 it would cost about $10 one way.

According to Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department numbers, that price would nearly triple for big-rig truck drivers. It could cost them about $28 one way.

"I think it's CRAZY to add tolls to something this state has paid for many, many times," said one driver.

The argument however, does go both ways.

Drivers made comments ranging from, "I think tolls are good as it makes traffic usually run smoother and faster," to "A toll road's a bargain."

However, some would say it's not a bargain for truckers who already say they pay more.

"All these trucking companies already pay a lot of heavy-use tax, road tax, fuel tax, which all goes to the funding of the interstates," explained truck driver Jimmy Dorrell.

Dorrell transports automobiles across the state every day.

"All the time," he added. "Nashville to Little Rock, daily."

He's not too fond of the idea of having to pay extra for a toll.

The AHTD paid $700,000 to hire a consultant who conducted 'toll-feasibility study' looking into expanding the interstate.

"Anybody who's ever been that way knows there's a lot of congestion," spokesman, Randy Ort remarked. "There's a lot of heavy truck traffic."

Ort says the project would cost somewhere between $700-800 million.

The state can't afford that so in comes the plan for the tolls.

AHTD adopted the study Wednesday, July 23, but all progress is at a standstill.

"You cannot go out and place a toll on an existing interstate," says Ort.

He says the federal government does not allow it.

One way Ort says the state hopes to have an 'in' to the project is that the government does have a pilot project underway that's allowing three states to go ahead with tolling existing interstates.

Arkansas though, isn't one of them, at least for now, says Ort.

"Should one of those states fall out of that study then we would be in a position to step in to that."

Another way the state could see this project happen is if the federal government, at some point, relaxes restrictions on tolling existing interstates.

Ort says the state understands everyone may not be on board with the idea but wants people to remember, right now, it is just an idea.

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