Arkansas Asks Voters for Highway Money
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
ARKANSAS TAXES: Whether more Arkansas drivers will enjoy four-lane highways and fixed-up interstates will soon be up to voters, who must decide whether the goal warrants increases in the sales and diesel taxes, writes the Arkansas News Bureau . Lawmakers approved sending two questions to the 2012 ballot to raise money for the transportation improvements. The measures, spearheaded by House Speaker Robert Moore, would bring in roughly $2.8 billion.
LEFTOVER RAIL MONEY: Florida Governor Rick Scott's refusal to accept federal high-speed rail funds has set off a competition among other states that want to get their hands on the forfeited cash. California would like the whole $2.43 billion, says the Los Angeles Times . But other states want to get a piece of the action, too. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, for example, will ask for $1 billion to improve service between St. Louis and Kansas City, according to The Associated Press . The governors of Vermont and Rhode Island are making the case for expanding rail service there, the AP notes in a separate story. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin is pressing for what he calls "medium-speed rail," with regional trains traveling at up to 80 or 90 miles an hour. Meanwhile, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will ask for $150 million to improve rail service between Chicago and Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. Walker killed an extension of passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Madison but has long promoted improvements on the existing line to Chicago.
PUBLIC-PRIVATE PROJECTS: As plans proceed to build a new bridge across the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon , the two states' budget situations are raising questions about how they will pay for the $3.6 billion project, writes Erik Robinson of The Columbian . Lawmakers are studying whether private investors can pick up the states' tab, but that option is tricky because existing plans call for public bonding paid off by bridge tolls. Meanwhile, in Ohio , Governor John Kasich signed a law giving the state authority to partner with private companies to fund new transportation projects, writes The Columbus Dispatch . And in neighboring Indiana , a bill is moving through the General Assembly that would give the governor total control over creating tollways, reports The Indianapolis Star . Critics worry the arrangement would cut legislators out of their oversight role, but 30 states have similar provisions under which legislative input is unnecessary.
SEATTLE TUNNEL: Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is fighting back against criticism that a state-backed plan for a waterfront tunnel in Seattle is going forward without the backing of the public, writes The Seattle Times . Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has led the criticism and is heading an effort to ask voters later this year for their approval before proceeding. At a press conference with local officials, Gregoire never mentioned McGinn by name but insisted the process was open. "She then cited 61 public meetings, almost 17,000 public comments, a 2007 Seattle advisory vote in which voters rejected other alternatives, a 29-member advisory committee that met 16 times and took public comment, a study of 90 different proposals and an environmental review," the Times wrote.