Overdrive Extra

Kevin Jones

I-40 lanes back open in Arkansas

| July 04, 2013
Just another day stuck on I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis. No traffic was moving in either direction when this photo was taken in March. | Photo by Kevin Jones

Just another day stuck on I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis. No traffic was moving in either direction when this photo was taken in March. | Photo by Kevin Jones

Just in time for the 4th of July, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department says all four lanes of I-40 will be open between Little Rock and Memphis, or at least that the 18-month reconstruction project is “now substantially complete.”

For a year-and-a-half Arkansas has held trucking hostage by limiting one of the busiest freight corridors in the U.S. to one lane in each direction. And that was on a good day.

Often east-west traffic has been brought to a standstill on one side or the other, and sometimes both. And you’d never know when a construction crew might dawdle, or when a 4-wheeler pulling a camper would lose an axle. It doesn’t take much to block a single lane. A two-hour transit could easily become four hours.

Of course, as I-40 regulars know, even with all four narrow lanes flowing across the rice and soybean fields, accidents are common, sometimes deadly and routinely the source of massive delays.

And that’s no way to run an interstate highway. Especially not a major artery, projected to be a leading freight route for the next 20 years.

Arkansas is a poor state and one that relies on federal support. Fair enough, since much of the traffic on I-40 neither begins nor ends in the state.

Yet some politicians, in a time when it’s popular to deride the federal government, would just as soon let a neighbor rot, or so former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas told me at a recent freight conference (go to the 33:20 mark of the video).

Her remarks were made in Texas, where invoking Lone Star nationalism is like serving brisket: it’s expected fare at public occasions. And she didn’t actually say she didn’t care about her state’s less affluent neighbors, but she did say it’s time to “let every state opt out of the Highway Trust Fund” and decide for themselves how to fund transportation infrastructure.

No offense, Texas (I’m a citizen, by birth), but your independence doesn’t mean much if goods can’t get in and out of the state. What are you going to do: Invade Arkansas and fix the roads.

Bad idea.

The Founding Fathers recognized that the federal government must ensure an open interstate transportation system, and that means fixing bottlenecks (whether intentional or not).

I’m reminded of one of those endless college dorm discussions: Which is more important, your freedom or your health? Well, one doesn’t mean much without the other.

Interstate truckers need a good federal highway system. The price we pay is regulation. Want the feds out of your business? Get used to sitting around in local traffic. And local governments are just as likely to regulate and tax trucks as they pass through.

So, even though I suspect many in the trucking industry would advise new Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to introduce some common sense to DOT regs, I’d encourage him to develop a sustainable model for highway funding — given its historical priority as the key enabler American commerce.

 

Take the Overdrive poll regarding DOT priorities.

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  • Ken Nilsen

    As a resident of Arkansas currently I will tell you what the problem is. It has nothing to do with it being a poor state at all. It has everything to do with projects were lined up prior to a certain governor leaving the state and taking up residence for 8 years in DC. You see, there were over 150 miles of unnecessary interstate built in counties where his major donors reside. It is all about payoffs, not federal dollars. It also has to do with federal highway dollars being redirected for new roads to a certain governor’s library. Also federal highway dollars being used for local transportation projects in high dollar parts of the state. Oh, and guess what, the same stretch will be closed again in the next 2 to 3 years as the bridge that they just finished the approaches for will have to be replaced.

  • GayleH

    I, too, am an Arkansas resident and totally resent the implications in this article. ANY state has it’s share of highway improvement projects going on, but since this is a crucial artery, Arkansas gets socked. There ARE alternate routes, but carriers stick their heads in the sand about them and refuse to use them, instead rely on luck to get them through this patch of construction. Then get angry when they are stuck with delays. The flooding a few years ago made the needed changes to this highway apparent, and at that time, truckers were all about the blame on Arkansas for not taking care of the road – now that we ARE doing something about it, we are getting blamed for that, too. Nobody wants to give up the time it takes to improve the route, yet everybody wants it done. Do they think the ‘road fairies’ will just come and do it while they are alseep?

  • William Curtin

    It’s funny how Mr. Jones see everything as government welfare……….Want better roads? Scrap the fuel taxes and convert the interstate system over to priventized toll roads.

  • Jackie

    Their is a simple fix to Washington DC, park them dam trucks and vote,don’t bitch if you don’t vote,this crazy grid lock in DC is buy the corporations who throw money at these useless do nothing politicians it’s time to clean house,and only vote in people that care about people and not corporations,

  • Jackie

    HUM you must have a lot of money invested in private road ways, I guess you think the Indiana and ohio turn pike are good deals?

  • martymarsh

    LMAO, is that Ken decrying the system? Just go with it Ken, everything will be fine.

  • martymarsh

    That’s right, when you vote, you are getting the choice of who is going to screw you.
    I see you still think one side or the other really cares, they couldn’t care less if you stopped breathing today.
    Votes don’t count in this corrupt world.