- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas state highway officials have suspended 56 construction projects due to uncertainty over the future of the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1EGa02H ) reports that the removal of projects, totaling an estimated $112 million, marks the third time this year that the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has withdrawn projects from bid letting. The latest round of suspensions brings the total to 61 projects worth an estimated $162 million.

The suspensions includes 50 projects that are part of the department’s $50 million overlay program, a series of maintenance projects to lengthen the life of existing highways. According to state highway officials, many of those projects would have helped repair roads recently damaged by winter weather.

Highway contractors say the suspensions will likely lead to layoffs.

“You’re losing about half of the summer contracting season,” said Don Weaver, the owner of Weaver-Bailey Construction Co. of El Paso. “I’m sure it will lead to layoffs. We’ve got jobs, but I’m sure others need to work.”

The department moved to head off the potential problem of paying for existing projects should Congress not act before funding for the trust expires on May 31. The department is evaluating projects to ensure there is sufficient state money for commitments if there are delays or reductions in federal reimbursements.

“When you pay all your bills with state money and then your federal reimbursements are delayed or reduced, you have to be proactive,” said Randy Ort, the department’s assistant chief for administration.

According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the trust fund provides, on average, about 52 percent of funding annually for state road and bridge projects.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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