This is Part I of our thoughts on Conway’s roads funding and the Southern Interchange. Read Part II of “Paying for Conway: Southern Interchange” here.
It’s like the bad dream that keeps on recurring. Our Mayor’s hero, the Prevaricator in Chief, manages through poor planning, a lack of forethought, and as many other descriptors of incompetence and downright dishonesty, to not provide grant money again.
First it was the airport project we didn’t need, which was not reimbursed at the financial level the Feds originally promised (“Sorry, don’t have the money”) and cost Conway lots of added dollars to complete. So 62,000 citizen taxpayers cover the tab (pun intended) and a couple of dozen folks can use their airplanes. And, we got to pay more because the Feds welched on the bet!
Now Conway has invested millions of taxpayer dollars into the southern interchange (thank you Gilbert Baker), and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) announces that grant money earmarked for this project will not be available.
Get ready … This hideously ugly partially completed roadway will be abandoned until money can be found (yours probably, but that’s a different article) or Conway strikes some kind of deal to get the project moving again.
We’d bet on the second option, as our Mayor is nothing if not brilliant at getting money for bangles and beads, so this is right up his alley.
Enter the next dot to be connected — a city councilman who is pretty influential at the county highway department. Wouldn’t take much for him to get the County Judge’s ear about using some of that $25,000,000 tucked away in the county highway fund to get that road going.
We’re sure Hizzoner and the Judge could work something like the fuzzy deal Hizzoner worked with AHTD to swap Highway 60 and Highway 286 to make money available for a prior bait-and-switch boondoggle road project.
So here’s what we see. The right-of-way for the southern bypass becomes a county highway, which makes Faulkner County responsible for building and maintenance. We could name it Wheedle Way, or some other descriptive name. The bottom line is Hizzoner gets his bypass, the Judge gets to spend his millions from his slush fund on roads, and the citizens of Conway and Faulkner County still get to pay the bill.
Enough on the weasel moves local politicians just love to pull in order to accomplish their pet projects, whether we need them or not.
What will the southern bypass do for Conway? It will make life easier for commuters but that’s their problem, not the whole population of a city or county. Commuters will save a few minutes on their way out and back to Conway, but is that worth the millions of dollars it will cost?
What if that same amount of money was put into maintaining the roads we already have? Would that be worth it? We’d think it would be worth more than a new interchange.
What about Conway businesses? When Exit 124 opened up, a lot of business was lost on the north side of town; people who used to stop on the way out or in didn’t go past those stores anymore and so did not stop. What about the businesses on the south and east sides of town? Will they see a reduction in business? We’d bet so if history is any indicator.
Not to worry though, as Hizzoner is already looking to fund a city art council (can’t remember its name) so we can have more statues and stuff on our streets. Maybe if the statues were put in potholes they’d be more useful; a good warning of places you don’t want to drive while Conway frets about funding that half-finished southern interchange.