- Associated Press - Thursday, October 29, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said a half-cent sales tax can’t be used to fund a $1 billion project widening an interstate corridor in the heart of downtown Little Rock.

Justices ruled that the sales tax, approved by voters in 2012, cannot be used for any highways with more than four lanes. The court reversed and remanded a Pulaski County judge’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Interstate 30 corridor project running through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock.

The project expands the 6.7-mile I-30 corridor from six to as many as 10 lanes in some portions.

Justices, however, noted that the constitutional amendment voters approved for the tax repeatedly refers to the money to be used for four-lane highways.

“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 said in its ruling.

Crews have begun construction on the I-30 project. The court’s ruling also said the amendment prohibited the use of the tax for the Interstate 630 project in west Little Rock, which is already completed.

The Arkansas Highway Commission said it and the state Transportation Department will investigate alternative ways to fund the I-30 project.

“30 Crossing is an important improvement that was promised in 2012 to Arkansas voters,” the commission said in a statement.

An attorney for the four taxpayers challenging the tax’s use for the project said he was pleased with the decision and that determining the remedy will have to take place in the lower court.

“This case has always been about the proper usage of tax funds,” Justin Zachary said.

Arkansas voters in next week’s election are being asked to permanently extend the half-cent tax, though the proposal does not include the same four-lane highway restriction as the 2012 measure.

“This strict application of Amendment 91 by the Supreme Court illustrates the need for flexibility in our highway programs,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who’s been campaigning for the measure, said in a statement.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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