ROADS LEAD TO WEEKEND ESCAPES.
Roads are literal and metaphorical connectors. They provide essential delivery of our daily needs – they also lead us to the things that matter most. As Americans, we depend on them for our safety and for our livelihoods. At Ergon, we are proud to work in communities across America helping build and maintain vital infrastructure that connects us all to what matters most.
Policy and Budget Over PoliticsJoe Quinn, AGRF Executive Director
Our cover story this month is about the Mack-Blackwell Amendment that was passed by Arkansas voters more than 70 years ago. After a series of highway funding scandals in the 1950s, the amendment was sent to voters as a way of removing the work of the highway commission from political influence. If the value and success of any amendment can be tied to how the amendment has aged, this one was a success. In many ways, the idea that decisions about Arkansas infrastructure should be budget and policy based, not politically motivated, matters more than ever in an increasingly political and fragmented world.
Maybe it seems naïve or unrealistic to think that multibillion-dollar decisions that will impact generations can be apolitical, but if any amendment indicates that is possible, it is this one. One suggestion for anyone paying attention to this issue is to attend an Arkansas Highway Commission meeting. Unlike what has started to happen at Arkansas school board meetings, the culture of the commission is civilized with polite discussion. There is a tradition among both new and old members that being on the commission matters, and the work is not to be taken lightly.
Commissioners certainly pay close attention to issues impacting the region of the state where they live, but after five years of sitting in the meetings, I have yet to see any decision swayed by regional debate. I also can’t remember a split vote on any major decision. This civility matters more than ever now that $3.8 billion in federal money is in the process of coming to our state. The infrastructure dialog in general in Arkansas has shifted from “let’s try to find that funding during the next session”, to “how can we prioritize the projects that are needed today”.
Arkansas’ congressional delegation is also working to keep the decision-making process moving in a way that benefits the state. ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor explained at the June highway commission meeting that US Senator John Boozman is now helping the state get $75 million to help with the much-discussed expansion of I-49 from Alma to Barling. Senator Boozman and Congressman Rick Crawford are also seeking $15 million for the development of I-57. These requests are part of $130 million in federal funding requests that ARDOT leadership is seeking support for.
Congressman Crawford is currently Chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and sits on the
Subcommittee on Aviation. Those infrastructure related committee assignments seem to harken back to the 1970s and 1980s when hometown voters in Arkansas paid close attention to the committee assignments across the delegation.
In some ways, Arkansas Good Roads members have intentionally worked to stand apart from angry politics. In 2020, the passage of a sales tax extension that provided much needed highway revenue happened during the pandemic. The campaign passed by a resounding margin after traditional campaign tactics were tossed aside as people stayed home for much of the year. It’s still amazing to think how successful the campaign was when every single aspect of life was turned upside down during the worst pandemic in 100 years.
Maybe that moment in time was a reminder that everyone associated with the issue worked together to spread the message of why infrastructure matters to family life, to the economy, to job creation, and to making roads safer. None of the supportive organizations framed the issue in terms of what they “needed”. In a somewhat unique way, there was no political infighting.
Mack-Blackwell has stood the test of time in reminding all of us that the effort to make complex road and bridge development decisions based on budget and policy reality rather than politics is still working as legislators hoped it would in the 1950s.
If our congressional delegation, state lawmakers, county judges, mayors, and Good Roads members continue to do what is needed and right, rather than make politically expedient decisions, we will continue to move ahead as we did in 2020 when Issue 1 passed against all odds. Thanks to all of you who work together to make our roads better with thoughtful dialog and mutual support. That approach matters more than ever in our small state.
Another article in this issue that I will point out is a look at how business leaders in Russellville are working together to bring employers and job seekers together for the good of all. The employers say they need great attitudes in the people they hire. They also point out the labor market is changing, and job specialties and certifications will be needed more than ever in the coming years. Every Good Roads member I talk to is in one way or another dealing with hiring issues. This discussion is not going away.
Thanks again for all you do to support our efforts.
2023 EXECUTIVE BOARD
ARKANSAS GOOD ROADS FOUNDATION
The Arkansas Good Roads/Transportation Council was established in 1975 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt and tax-deductible organization. In 2015, the council was re-established as a foundation in order to be a more visible and credible voice on behalf of the mission of the Arkansas Highway Commission and the Arkansas Department of Transportation. The purpose of the foundation is to promote adequate funding and financing for the planning, development, construction, and maintenance of a safe and efficient highway, street, road, and bridge system, including transportation enhancements. The work increases statewide economic growth, private sector job creation and retention, and improves the quality of life in all Arkansas counties, municipalities, and communities.
Joe Quinn, Executive Director firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathryn Tennison, Editor email@example.com
Celia Blasier, Designer firstname.lastname@example.org
Managed Lanes are a First in ArkansasBy David Nilles
Reprinted with permission from ARDOT.
Perhaps you’ve been in this scenario…it’s 5:15 in the afternoon and you’re heading home taking the interstate 430 bridge into North Little Rock, or, it’s 7:40 in the morning and you’re taking the bridge headed into Little Rock.
Whether it’s the morning or the afternoon, you just might run into the same situation, a traffic back up in the travel lanes as you approach the bridge. ARDOT’s staff of engineers have been hard at work formulating a solution. Replacing the I-430 Bridge to expand
capacity was out of the question. The solution ARDOT arrived at to alleviate the congestion is what is called a Managed Lane System. The I-430 Managed Lane System has been implemented to open the shoulders of the bridge during peak hours of congestion to add additional capacity in between Highway 10 (Cantrell Road) and Highway 100 (Maumelle Boulevard).
The usage of shoulders as travel lanes for variable hours of the day began in Germany in 1996 and was next implemented in the Netherlands in 1999. The overall success of international implementations prompted their introduction in the United States
I-430 Managed Lanes
in 2009. Their first use was on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Here in Arkansas, ARDOT and Metroplan worked in partnership to explore the feasibility of managed lanes for use in Central Arkansas. That led the Department to where we are today.
Opening the shoulders to traffic required an adjustment to the existing traffic lanes. Previously, there were three 12-foot travel lanes in each direction with a variable inside shoulder of 5.5 feet and a 10foot outside shoulder. With the new lane design, there are now three 11-foot lanes and a 13-foot outside shoulder for part time travel on the shoulders. Traffic is allowed to use the outside shoulders as lanes during peak hours featuring specific times. ARDOT has determined the hours of operation for the managed lanes to be:
Southbound lanes: 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Northbound lanes: 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
There will also be time dedicated to “Special Event” operation of the lanes. For example, if the 30 Crossing construction project causes heavy traffic to reroute to I-430, or if there is a major accident on one of the area’s bridges. Lighted green arrows and red X’s above the managed lanes will indicate to motorists if the lanes are open. When not needed as an additional travel lane, the shoulder will be restored to its original purpose as a “shoulder”.
For ARDOT and for Arkansas motorists, the managed lanes will be a new driving experience. “This is the first managed lane system in Arkansas,” stated Joe Hawkins, State ITS Engineer in the Maintenance Division. “While the Bobby Hopper tunnel has X’s and Arrows, those are for maintenance purposes only. The I-430 system is the first corridor with active management.”
Active Management in this case means the lanes will be actively monitored by ARDOT’s Traffic Management Center (TMC) using Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) cameras. Using cameras, the TMC can monitor traffic flow and can also monitor the managed lanes for stalled vehicles, debris (such as blown tires), etc.
“District 6 will be providing sweeping services for the route,” Hawkins added. “If the TMC spots something that would prevent turning on of the
system, they will call District to the bridge to sweep or pick up the debris.”
The managed lane system will alleviate traffic backups by improving traffic flow in the managed and general-purpose lanes, improve travel time through the area, provide flexible use in emergencies and make the I-430 Bridge a safer roadway. In addition, the system will also do more.
“The managed lane system also uses two Roadside Weather Information Systems (RWIS) to detect road surface conditions,” Hawkins added. “RWIS will detect water, ice, snow, fog, rain amounts and air/ surface temperatures. These will be calibrated and used by the TMC to decide whether to open when it is snowy or foggy, for example.”
Roadway lighting was also included in the project to ensure that TMC staff can clearly see managed lane areas.
“The lighting will also help drivers,” Hawkins shared.
With the system now open, Hawkins wanted to share that it took the entire Department pulling together to make this project happen.
“The Transportation Planning and Policy Division conducted the early studies that indicated managed lanes would provide benefits to the corridor, the Roadway Design Division provided the geometric design for the route and obtained the design exception from FHWA that made the project possible, the Construction Division RE Office has done outstanding work dealing with an immensely difficult and challenging project, the Maintenance Division ITS Management Section provided design of ITS elements, roadway lighting and river navigation systems, IT Division provided network design, hardware and support, and the Bridge Division was critical in the design to attach new signal poles onto the bridge deck. Lastly, I want to recognize the Highway Commission and executive leadership who entrusted us with making the first Managed Lane project in Arkansas happen.”
With a current traffic count on the I-430 Bridge of 96,000 vehicles per day and a projection for the year 2040 indicating 112,000 vehicles per day, this managed lane project will help ARDOT provide a better traffic experience in the years to come.
FROM 2018 THROUGH 2021, WORK ZONE CRASHES
We can all do our part to help. Work zone safety is everyone’s job.
Portion of Highway 10 Expansion Named After the Late Thomas B. SchueckBy Joe Quinn, AGRF Executive Director
Tom Schueck was never the type of person anyone would forget after meeting him. He started a nationally respected steel business in his garage with $800 dollars. He was always tough and to the point, maybe the type of self-made business leader who we will never really see again. He created thousands of jobs and tens of millions in economic impact for Arkansas.
The day I met him for the first time in his office, we talked about roads and how to remind people that extending a sales tax was critical to future funding of roads in Arkansas. As the meeting wound down, I noticed a beautiful book about golf courses on his coffee table. I asked about it and he mentioned he was an owner in a national golf course construction company that had built one of the most respected and well-known courses in the country. I remember being somewhat in awe that the golf course company investment was just another accomplishment in Tom’s portfolio. He started modestly and worked every single day to make Lexicon Inc what it became. A company that started with his wife Marge as his first
Tom was also a fighter. In the late days of his life, he would come to Arkansas Highway Commission meetings in a wheelchair. He was the chairman of the commission, and it was clear to the people who cared about him that his health was fading. But he still came. He still managed the agenda and moved the meeting along and did what a chairman does. He was never the type to step back from a commitment he had made or not see any project through to the finish.
On a recent spring morning his family and ARDOT leaders gathered in the parking lot of Christ the King Catholic Church in West Little Rock to name a section of Highway 10 after Tom Schueck. It is an honor that ARDOT and the highway commission reserve for a select few people who have made the commitment to building a better state through better infrastructure.
Tom Schueck built a business and a better community with his determination. Something for all of us to think about in the years ahead as we drive by the Tom Schueck sign on the busy Little Rock road.
Chad Adams has been named the Assistant Chief Engineer –Construction. Chad has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and is a Registered Professional Engineer. His ARDOT career began in 1996 in the Fayetteville Resident Engineer Office as a Civil Engineer I. He followed the engineering career path in field construction until he promoted to District 4 Maintenance Engineer in 2004. He became District 4 Construction Engineer in 2007 and promoted to his current position of District 4 Engineer in 2013.
Steve Frisbee has been named the Assistant Chief EngineerMaintenance. Steve has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and is a Registered Professional Engineer. He worked four summers as an Engineering Student Intern prior to being hired in January 1997 as a Civil Engineer I in the Texarkana Resident Engineer Office. He followed the engineering career path in field construction, promoting to District 1 Construction Engineer in August 2008. Steve became the District 3 Engineer in July 2013, and transferred to Little Rock as the Division Head of Transportation Planning and Policy in 2020. He obtained his current position of Assistant Chief Engineer – Operations in 2021.
Jessie Jones has been named the Assistant Chief Engineer – Planning. Jessie has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, and a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She is a Registered Professional Engineer. Jessie began to work for the Department in January 2002 as a Civil Engineer in the Bridge Division. She followed the engineering career path in the Bridge Division and the Planning and Research Division until obtaining the position of Consultant Coordinator in 2008. Jessie became Assistant Division Head of Transportation Planning and Policy in February 2011, Division Head of Transportation Planning and Policy in October 2013, and obtained her current position of Division Head of Program Management in 2020.
Kevin Thornton has been named the Chief – Administration. Kevin has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and is a Registered Professional Engineer. His ARDOT career began in 1986 in the Roadway Design Division. In 1987, he transferred to field construction where he followed the engineering career path until he advanced to Staff Construction Engineer in 2006 and moved to Systems Administrator in 2007. He promoted to Assistant Division Head of the Program Management Division in 2011 and, later that same year, advanced to Division Head. Kevin promoted to Assistant Chief Engineer – Planning in December 2014 and obtained his current position of Assistant Chief – Administration in March 2020.
Rex Vines has been named the Chief Engineer – Operations. Rex has a bachelor’s degree in engineering with emphasis in civil engineering from Arkansas State University. He is a Registered Professional Engineer. Rex’s career with the Department began in 1993 as a Civil Engineering Technician in the Wynne Resident Engineer Office. He followed the engineering career path in field construction until advancing to District Construction Engineer in August 2004, to District Maintenance Engineer in June 2008, and to District 1 Engineer in August 2014. Rex promoted to Assistant Chief Engineer – Operations in March 2019 and to his current position of Deputy Director and Chief Engineer in April 2021.
Keli Wylie has been named the Assistant Chief Engineer – Program Delivery. Keli has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Louisiana Tech University and is a Registered Professional Engineer. She began her career with the Department as a Civil Engineer in the Roadway Design Division in March 2002, and continued on the engineering career path advancing to Assistant Division Head of Roadway Design in October 2012. In December 2012, Keli became the CAP Administrator and promoted to her current position of Alternative Project Delivery Administrator in 2019.
ARDOT Proposed Organizational Chart
Jared Wiley has been named the Chief Engineer – Preconstruction. Jared has a bachelor’s degree in engineering with an emphasis in civil engineering from Arkansas State University. He is a Registered Professional Engineer. Jared began his career with the Department as an Engineering Student Intern prior to being hired in December 2005 as a Civil Engineer in the Planning and Research Division. He followed the engineering career path in the Planning Branch until advancing to Consultant Coordinator in the Deputy Director and Chief Engineer’s office in July 2013. He promoted to Assistant Division Head of the Transportation Planning and Policy Division in January 2014, to Division Head of Program Management in May 2015, and to his current position of Assistant Chief Engineer – Planning in April 2020.
Crystal Woods has been named the Assistant Chief of Administration. Crystal has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in Human Resources from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She began her career at the Department as a seasonal employee in the Personnel Section of the Human Resources Division in May 1990 and continued in part-time status until completing college in 1993. Upon graduation, Crystal was hired as a General Clerk in the Training and Safety Section. She transferred to Public Affairs in 1995 as the Administrative Assistant to the Chief of Administration and Public Affairs. In 1996, Crystal returned to the Training and Safety Section to assume training responsibilities as the Training Specialist. In 2000, she promoted to Section Head of Training and Safety. One month later, she obtained the position of Human Resources Officer and became the Division Head of Human Resources in 2004.
Mack-Blackwell Celebrates 70 Years of Success
Keeping Politics off Arkansas’s HighwaysBy Deborah Horn
There are political voices in Arkansas who have periodically suggested abolishing or rewriting the 70-year-old Mack-Blackwell Amendment. During the 2023 Legislative Session, Senate Joint Resolutions 7 and 15 were introduced that would give legislators more of a say in highway business and where commissioners are appointed from. These died in committee.
During an Arkansas Good Roads Foundation speech late in his final term, former Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke of the need to protect MackBlackwell. Some people in Arkansas believe that doing away with it would put politics back into highway building decisions, changing an efficient system that has served the test of time.
This wasn’t the first time elected officials tried to gain more control over ARDOT’s multi-million-dollar budget. Since 2009, every regular legislative session has seen at least one bill or resolution filed to give legislators control over ARDOT’s project selection, project funding, or commissioner appointment. So far, no legislation has passed, but supporters of the amendment believe the effort to repeal MackBlackwell is not going away.
Long Term Decision Making
In the early 2000s, Jessica Clanton decided to pursue a physics degree at the University of Arkansas
at Fayetteville; however, the Harrison resident didn’t have the choice to live on campus. She was married with four young children and driving was her only option. She drove narrow two-lane roads, including US Highway 65 and 412 to state Highway 45; she says the passing lanes were short and too far between. Rumble strips didn’t exist and instead of gently sloping shoulders, many were five-inch drop-offs.
Her 88-mile drive one-way across curvy Ozark roads was slowed by other drivers, road construction, and occasional accidents. Too often, the two hours stretched into three. She earned an undergraduate and master’s degree in physics and later said, “I drove the equivalent of more than four times around the world. It was a difficult drive…but I had to do what I had to do.”
Clanton still drives US Hwy 412 but heads east to the Arkansas State University at Mountain Home where she’s a full-time instructor, and she makes the occasional trip to Fayetteville. With the Huntsville bypass and the 412 widening and additional passing lanes, she said, “These days the trip takes an hourfifteen or less. It’s quicker and much safer.”
The highway improvements that changed life for Clanton were in the planning stage for decades. But long-term projects like this have been able to continue through administration changes because MackBlackwell has in general protected the work from
being redirected by changing political leadership and majorities.
Amendment 42 to the state’s Constitution was proposed by two state senators, Y.M. Mack and Lawrence Blackwell, and ratified by voters by a three to one margin before going into effect in 1953. It immediately gave the Highway Commission autonomy and control over its own budget and replaced a system “of shocking waste, extravagance and overall inefficiency” that “hamstrung any attempt toward a sound and efficient highway program,” according to a 1951 Highway Audit Commission report under then Governor Sid McMath.
With the new amendment in effect, gone were the days of appointees changing with every new administration; instead, a five-person commission was established. The 10-year, staggered appointments were considered at-large, but no two members could be from the same congressional district.
Years later, the highway commission seats remain highly sought-after positions, with Democrats and Republicans often serving on the same commission. Alec Farmer, its current Chairman, said, “When the oath of office is completed…We strive to put politics aside and put the best interests of the state ahead of our own community or region.”
“Importantly, when looking at the big picture, projects don’t just benefit one area of the state, but the whole state through better connectivity, efficiency and safety,” Farmer said.
Under the terms of Amendment 42, the Arkansas Highway Commission wouldn’t run the highway department but appoint
a director “to run the day-to-day.” These measures ensured that short-term political gain would take a backseat. ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor says all of that could change if the amendment were to be repealed, “Arkansas has a lot to lose.”
“Arkansas was the first to finish its portion of the country’s interstate system, and since then, great progress has been made to expand and improve our state highway’s system such as the completion of Interstate 49 between Alma and the Missouri Line, the Hot Springs Bypass, Highway 65, Highway 167, Highway 67 between North Little Rock and Walnut Ridge, just to name a few,” Tudor said.
Dave G. Parker, ARDOT Public Information Officer, said, “This allows commission members to take the long view…This consistency allows ARDOT to plan long-range projects that build upon the existing roadway system.”
Protecting the Planning Process
Long term, nonpolitical decision making has been far-reaching, creating better jobs and commercial development as well as giving a boost to the state’s two biggest economic drivers: agriculture and tourism. Mark R. Hayes, Arkansas Municipal League
Executive Director, said, “It took time and planning. It wasn’t an overnight success.”
Mack-Blackwell continues to put clear budget and policy decisions ahead of political debate. This approach helps guarantee that highway revenue is well spent. According to ARDOT, “The cost to construct and improve I-49 from Alma to the Missouri state line in today’s dollars was about $3.2 billion.” That doesn’t include the cost of the other highways in and around the area, Parker said.
Without an interconnected roadway system, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art might not have landed in Bentonville and Neighbor’s Mill Bakery & Cafe on the improved US Hwy 65 in Harrison might not be a must-eat destination. They recently opened a second bakery in Rogers. History shows that the right kind of feeder roads create economic prosperity. As Mark Hayes says, “The state’s 499 cities have benefited.”
For example, the $3 billion United States Steel Corporation plant under construction will create 900
jobs, and Envirotech Vehicles started production of its electric commercial vans this spring. Both are in Osceola and together will employ about 1,700.
In March, the military announced it was moving its 425th Fighter Squadron to Fort Smith’s Ebbing Air National Guard Base. That means new primary and secondary businesses springing up to serve the 900 additional military personnel and their families.
Central Arkansas is also benefiting. Near the Interstate 40 and 440 interchange, companies like Caterpillar Inc., Ben E. Keith, Safeway Foods, Central Commerce Center, and Amazon built distribution centers. The area is popular because it is close to the airport, river, rail, and road transportation options.
Westrock Coffee Company just announced a $100 million expansion in Conway, and after the recent road upgrades and construction of US Highway 425 in and around Monticello, there’s plenty of new growth such as the Take 5 Car Wash, Western Sizzlin, storage units and more.
All this growth and job creation in different regionsBy The Numbers
1009 was the number assigned to the House Joint Resolution introduced during the 2023 Legislative Session. The resolution would have given legislators a say in highway business and the ability to reject a commission appointment. It died in committee.
1953 was the year that Amendment 42 of the Arkansas State Constitution went into effect. It was proposed by two state senators, Y.M. Mack and Lawrence Blackwell and ratified by voters by nearly 3 to 1.
Once the Mack-Blackwell Amendment went into effect, five was the number of commissioners on the new Arkansas Highway Commission with 10-year staggered at-large appointments.
70 is the number of years the Arkansas Highway Commission has served the citizens of this great state! Consider the progress Arkansas has made since the 1950s!
children to pursue a college education. From large manufacturing operations to small mom-and-pop shops, Hayes said, “None of this would have occurred without the foresight and craftsmanship of the authors of the Mack-Blackwell Amendment. They understand what was lacking and I love the fact that people had a great vision that went beyond that moment and politics. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Jessica Clanton wasn’t the only student who benefited from Arkansas’s improved road system. When Lorie Tudor decided to get a civil engineering degree, she opted to attend classes at the University of Memphis instead of UA at Fayetteville. At that time, the “Pig Trail” was narrow and so curvy that drivers met themselves coming and going, or so the old-timers said. For Tudor, Fayetteville wasn’t a drivable option, but Little Rock to Memphis was doable.
of the state would not happen without a cohesive longterm ARDOT strategy. Non-political decision-making matters more than ever with $3.8 billion in additional federal funding coming to Arkansas. Conversations that used to be about identifying funding for a project are now about prioritizing projects where the funding is currently available. All of this is good for the state on multiple levels.
The fast-growing city of White Hall in Southeast Arkansas is getting a new 76-bed hospital, located just off I-530, and with improvements to I-530 and widening of US 65 south, the once three-hour trip from Little Rock to McGee now takes less than two hours.
Hayes points out that running a large trade association often takes him across the state, and he’s seen a substantial reduction in driving times over the last decade. It’s also made it easier to visit family and for his own
Tudor said, “A road can influence the important decisions that shape lives and affords opportunities, essentially rewriting personal destinies…It’s amazing how a road played such a large part in my own journey.”
For Tudor, providing Arkansans with the best roads possible isn’t just lip-service; she’s driven the backroads on her way to an education and a better life. The past 70 years have shown that planning for and building roads works best when politics are not driving the decisions.
“None of this would have occurred without the foresight and craftsmanship of the authors of the MackBlackwell Amendment. They understand what was lacking and I love the fact that people had a great vision that went beyond that moment and politics. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
— Mark R. Hayes, Arkansas Municipal League Executive Director
Commercial Truck Parking Lot Opens on I-40 in West Memphis
Recently, Arkansas state leaders, including ARDOT officials and Highway Commission members, celebrated the opening of a much needed 84-space commercial truck parking lot in West Memphis on I-40.
Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton stated, “While a parking lot may not seem like an exciting enhancement to our state’s highway system, this is critical infrastructure not only for our industry but also for our Arkansas communities that rely on these trucks.” Additionally, Newton said she wants people to realize that this
facility is a “break room” for truck drivers, who are “the backbone of our economy and, during long hours and challenging conditions, ensure the timely delivery of goods.”
Due to the fact that I-40 connects to Memphis, which is a regional freight hub, the interstate is the highest truck volume corridor in Arkansas.
“Over 40,000 vehicles pass this site every day, and over 50%, and sometimes close to 60%, are commercial trucks,” added Highway Commission Chairman Alec Farmer.
In keeping with ARDOT’s goal to support the
development of safe and secure truck parking facilities, the West Memphis truck parking site will have a second phase to add restrooms and build a police substation, starting by the end of June.
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor said: “To have that presence of Arkansas Highway Police here will add security and safety to our truckers. I cannot adequately express how important this parking expansion is here on Interstate 40 or how much it is needed for our truckers as they travel through Arkansas.”
ARDOT’s latest truck parking survey revealed 20 of the state’s 26 public truck parking locations were over capacity, as were 133 of the 283 private parking locations. The parking lot expansion west of mile marker 275 was paid for
Arkansas State Highway Commission
Arkansas Employers Say Attitude Matters Labor Issues More Complex Than EverBy Joe Quinn, AGRF Executive Director
If you take the time to go to any medium sized community in Arkansas and tour local manufacturing facilities, at some point you will inevitably say, “I had no idea that was made here.”
On a recent humid day in Russellville, a manufacturing conference at Arkansas Tech University featured six medium to large employers. They make wet wipes, frozen dinners, coffee filters, aluminum landing strips for military aircraft, the landing surface on aircraft carriers, precision parts for satellites, parts for Tesla cars, cardboard boxes, and the inner tubes for wheels on the Blackhawk Helicopter.
The companies turn out a wide array of products, but they all have the same labor issues. Recruiting and retaining workers to keep assembly lines running is getting more complex and more expensive. These HR leaders operate on the simple premise that they don’t expect an applicant to have much training or background on day one.
If an applicant has the desire to work, the company will offer a wide array of development opportunities. These companies need and want people to move to higher salary levels soon after they are hired. A state that once talked a lot about a non-union workforce as an asset now often leads any conversation with the need for an available and trained workforce to attract new business.
Each company says the most important thing they want in a new employee is a great attitude, the ability to show up to work on time and pass a drug test given to new hires. Attitude is everything for these companies. One plant manager says, “If someone has a toxic attitude, we really wish they would just tell us that up front and move along.”
Most Arkansas employers believe a diligent worker with a good attitude can quickly move through the ranks increasing their responsibility and the size of their paycheck. One executive says simply, “We
are hungry for people. We don’t look for specific qualifications in new hires. We want motivated people with a willingness to learn.”
When asked about the things they notice on an application or resume, one executive said, “We notice when someone applies who has had five jobs in five years, it’s not a great indicator. We notice when a recent high school graduate has no real work experience during their teen years. We notice when you struggle to read, we can help you with that, but you need to be able to show up to work on time.”
The good news is that anyone with the right attitude and the desire to work can find a job today in a manufacturing facility in Russellville. But those opportunities will shrink in the years ahead. Covid abruptly forced manufacturers to learn how to get the work done with fewer employees. Technology and automation are cheaper than they were ten years ago, and employers are rapidly working to automate everything they can.
One business leader told the audience, “Manual labor jobs that require no experience will go away, so you will have to have a specialty or some sort of certification to be in the future workforce.”
The real opportunity in the years ahead will be for workers who have specialized training or certifications in areas like plumbing, electricity, or welding. Companies are looking for people with specialties. An HVAC maintenance person has huge value to a facility with massive refrigeration units vital to chilling or freezing food. But HVAC repair experts remain exceptionally hard to find. When they are hired, they can quickly make $70,000 annually.
One plant manager says, “Refrigeration technicians are for whatever reason a dying breed. There is just a lack of interest in this critical position. Maybe people want something a little more glamourous, or maybe they want to do work they think they will like more. But we always need technical skills.”
On this day, the audience listening to the industry leaders is composed of teachers and school district administrators. The idea of the meeting is to give the educators a better understanding of what employers look for in students who apply for jobs right after high school.
A teacher stands to ask a question and says, “We tell our kids they need an understanding of Excel
and PowerPoint and Microsoft Word. Do you think that’s true?” One executive pauses for a moment before answering, “Well, if you were coming into our accounting office, we would certainly expect you to understand Excel. But if you are applying for a starting level job on the floor, I don’t think those are skills that would matter much.”
It’s an interesting moment that underlines one of Arkansas’ profound economic and hiring issues. The disconnect between what public schools and community colleges are teaching, and what will really help some young people find a better job and a better life.
At some point during the 90-minute session, every one of the six executives at the head table said some variation of this…. “We spent decades telling every kid to get a four-year degree. No one really said that manufacturing is a good career choice or that maintenance workers can earn $70,000 a year. There are countless people who could have made a great living in a manufacturing plant, but they were told to go to college. They never made much money, they took on education debt, and now they can’t retire.”
Arkansas State Chamber President Randy Zook has for years been saying what the Russellville business community is pointing out, “If a new worker shows up and acts interested, the employers will take it from there. Employers are seeking attitude and durable skills like how to think creatively and the ability to read and understand instructions. The real need out there is for engaged entry level workers who can learn and grow on the job.”
Arkansas Labor Challenges
Outside the large dining hall where the meeting is taking place, Arkansas Tech summer students can be seen walking in shorts with book bags draped over their shoulders. Chances are good that each of these students is giving some degree of thought to the link between what they learn here and future earning potential.
This student body is 95% in state students and the majority are accessing Pell Grants to get a degree. But many don’t make it to graduation day; 25% drop out between the spring of freshman year and the start of sophomore year. It’s safe to say that making $70,000 annually as an HVAC technician would be a game changer for most of these young people and their families.
A major challenge in Arkansas remains what it has been for years…how do we do a better job telling people about the income potential in career paths they have never been urged to think much about?
The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce for more than six years has been building the Be Pro Be Proud program that collaborates with high schools to show thousands of students manufacturing career options. The program pulls together employers and students for an expedited interview process and works to create measurable data showing the number of students who end up employed because of this work.
Be Pro Be Proud Executive Director Andrew Parker relentlessly manages the logistics of staging events at hundreds of high schools. Parker says, “We are a long way from where we were six years ago. We are different from many workforce development programs in that we are doing extremely specific things to help young people find a career path. Pulling schools, students, and employers into the same discussion matters. Most programs are not as hands on as Be Pro Be Proud is.”
Parker recognizes that young people in any state have different levels of resources and support at home. After the event in Russellville he said, “Part of any strategy to create new jobs, and fill existing jobs, has to be showing people the opportunities that are out there. We are not only talking to high school students, but we are working to communicate with parents.”
In Arkansas it’s not just the manufacturing community dealing with hiring and retention issues. Every company that belongs to Arkansas Good Roads is facing some variation of the same labor issues the companies in Russellville are dealing with. Large engineering firms start trying to hire bright young engineers during their junior year in college. The trucking industry is talking about the fact you must be 21 to drive a large truck. Road contractors must adjust bids on big projects as the cost of labor is a daily commodity discussion now. The highway police and state police who make roads safe are facing significant shortages in the officer ranks.
Many business leaders nationwide are still not entirely sure why labor became harder to find after Covid. There are many theories, but no single answer. We shifted more than ever to being a work from home society, but you can’t work from home and assemble the aluminum pieces going into an aircraft carrier or a Tesla. You can’t deliver millions of tons of Tyson Chicken from home. Walmart home delivery teams can’t hand you milk and eggs from a home office.
Zook has told multiple governors, hundreds of legislators, and dozens of Rotary Clubs that Arkansas needs to be much more focused on how schools prepare students for the day after graduation. He says states also need to change how they think, “Virginia just did a detailed review and analysis of all the state
job openings they have posted. They found that 60% of the jobs currently ask for a four-year degree as a prerequisite to hiring when the degree really isn’t needed at all.”
For the first time ever, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has appointed one person to coordinate the Arkansas workforce development efforts. Previously, multiple state agencies had a role in this work, but a new type of coordination across the public and private sectors will hopefully make it easier for job seekers to connect with large and small employers. Chief Workforce Officer Mike Rogers spent years in the private sector at Tyson Foods. He is passionate and dynamic when he speaks to teenagers about controlling their own destiny and finding a career that can support a family and give them a better life.
The hard reality today is that the challenges and workforce dynamics Russellville is facing are no different than thousands of other similar communities
across the state and nation. The people and companies that thrive in the years ahead will be in communities that embrace the fact that what has worked in the past is not the path to the future.
“We are a long way from where we were six years ago. We are different from many workforce development programs in that we are doing extremely specific things to help young people find a career path.”
— Be Pro Be Proud Executive Director Andrew Parker
Arkansas Good Roads Foundation
Northeast Arkansas Policy Event
Date: July 21, 2023
Time: 9:30 am – 1:30 pm
Location: Red Wolf Convention Center, Jonesboro
Arkansas Highway Commission Chairman Alec Farmer
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor
Congressman Rick Crawford
Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton
Riceland Foods Supply Chain VP Evan Bolte
D.B. Hill, III
Agricultural Council of Arkansas
Open For Business Amid the DevastationBy Joe Quinn, AGRF Executive Director
The damage from the tornado that ripped through West Little Rock on March 31 is hard to comprehend if you have only seen the TV news coverage of the damage. In person, the devastation to some neighborhoods is far more disturbing, far more personal, far more real. This is not 20 seconds of footage shown on CNN late at night as the anchor talks about damage to a small Alabama town. This damage was in our city and profoundly affected people we all know and love.
Some of the worst damage was on Shackleford Road near a Little Rock fire station that used to sit across the street from multi-unit apartments. Behind the fire station is a short dead-end road named Shackleford Plaza that is filled with nondescript business offices – the type of buildings without much signage that you drive past a million times without thinking much about the fact that people work there.
On that street sat Best Association Management, a company that for years has worked closely with Arkansas Good Roads. The team at Best does our bookkeeping, sends our dues invoices, helps produce this magazine, and many of the other things that any trade association needs to function.
On the Friday afternoon that the tornado hit, many of the buildings on Shackleford Plaza suffered serious damage, but the Best Management building was the worst. It was destroyed. It wasn’t damaged, it wasn’t a case of needing roof repairs or new windows, the
building was torn to pieces. Looking at it a few days later my only thought was that it was a miracle more people hadn’t died when the tornado tore across the city.
But a disaster like this is a reminder that we live in a country where people who own small businesses know how to pick up the pieces after everything they have worked for lies in soggy pieces. By Saturday morning, Anne Fuller and her team were breaking out windows in the back of the building to crawl into offices and remove what documents they could find. They managed to find the server, which allowed them to get up and running more quickly than if they’d had to restore the cloud backup on a new server. By Monday, the server was in the hands of a firm that employs sophisticated humidifiers to remove moisture from electronics. It took days, but the server was nursed back to life, as was the business.
News coverage of tornados generally focuses on buildings destroyed, people killed or injured, and when the federal disaster relief money will be released to the state or city. But watching people we work closely with spread thousands of pages of soggy documents on the floor to let them dry out, finding new office space, and ordering new furniture, is a reminder that a natural disaster is really about individuals and small businesses standing up and saying, “OK, what do we do first to start to get through this?”
morning, the Best Management financial manager, Laura, was talking to me about a routine document I needed. I was almost embarrassed to have the discussion, knowing what the Best staff had been going through. It was a moment to think about resiliency and about the fact that small businesses in many ways are the very heart and soul of the American economy.
The area around the Best office was also a reminder of the randomness of life. Some buildings were just gone, while others were essentially untouched. There is no real rhyme of reason to life and looking at tornado damage reinforced that in a dark and personal way.
Perhaps it was fate that the tornado passed through on a Friday afternoon when the Best staff tends to work from home. They were not in the building as they would have been on a Tuesday morning or a Thursday afternoon.
Good Roads members across the state all depend on suppliers and vendors who provide services and products and strategy. I don’t really know why but my experience over the past five years has been that people who exist in any section of the infrastructure, transportation, or construction world in Arkansas tend to be kind and tend to care about each other. For whatever reason there is a good deal of mutual respect in this world.
I was reminded of that when 48 hours after the tornado the Best Management team had put a handwritten sign up in the rubble with an arrow pointing the way across the parking lot to their new and nearby office space. It was like a flag flying among the devastation sending a message that said…. We are still here, we are still open for business, the building may be gone but we are not.
So, thank you to all the small businesses across this great state who support what we do, and who on the bad days are the first to pick themselves up and keep doing work that matters to all of us in our small and very connected infrastructure world.
To Our Valued AGRF Members: Thank You!
Thanks for supporting us and helping us tell the story of why good roads and bridges matter. For membership information, please contact Joe Quinn at 479-426-5931.
Arkansas Asphalt Pavement Association
Arkansas Department of Transportation
Arkansas Farm Bureau
Arkansas Municipal League
Arkansas Poultry Federation
Arkansas Society of Professional Engineers
Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce
Arkansas State Police Commission
Arkansas Trucking Association
Ash Grove Cement Company
Association of Arkansas Counties/ County Judges
Associated Builders & Contractors of AR
Atlas Asphalt, Inc. (Jamestown Investments)
Bank of Delight
Burns & McDonnell
Clark Machinery Company
Commercial Bank - Monticello
Contractor’s Specialty Service Company
Crafton-Tull & Associates
Curt Green & Company, LLC
D.B. Hill Contractors, Inc.
Dermott Industrial Development
Dumas Chamber of Commerce
Eagle Bank and Trust
Emery Sapp & Sons
Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce
First Community Bank of Batesville
FM Structural Plastic Technology
Golden Triangle Economic Development
Hines Trucking Inc.
Horatio State Bank
Hudson, Cisne & Company
Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce
LaCroix Optical Company
Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce
Lion Oil Company
M & T Paving and Construction Co., Inc.
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring
McGeorge Contracting Company, Inc.
Michael Baker Int’l
Midwest Lime Company
Mobley General Contractors
Monticello Economic Development Commission
NE Ark. Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority
Ohlendorf Investment Company
OK AR Chapter American Concrete
Paragould Reg. Chamber of Commerce
Pickering Firm, Inc.
Razorback Concrete Company
Riceland Foods, Inc.
Rogers Group, Inc.
Ronnie Duffield Gravel Company
Ryburn Motor Company, Inc.
Springdale Chamber of Commerce
SW AR Planning & Development District
Tyson Foods, Inc.
I-49 International Coalition
Jeffrey Sand Company
Jensen Construction Company
University of Arkansas
Upper SW Regional Solid Waste Management District
Weaver-Bailey Contractors, Inc.
Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority
Mayflower Overpass Completed
ARDOT officials, community leaders, and Congressman French Hill were present for a ribbon cutting on May 26th, 2023, to commemorate the completion of the Highway 89 bypass in Mayflower. The project, which took two years to complete, includes the construction of a railroad overpass and the replacement of a bridge structure with a reinforced concrete box culvert.
“This idea that we’re celebrating today, was on the planning calendar when Lyndon Johnson was president,” Hill said at the ribbon-cutting event. “So, we’re not rushing into things here, but by golly, we get things done in Faulkner County.”
The Highway 89 bypass will help ease the traffic of the estimated 10,000 vehicles that use it daily.
Cantrell Road Widening Project Completed
Drivers rejoice! The Cantrell Road widening project, which began in 2020, has been completed. The chronic congestion at Cantrell and Rodney Parham has been eased by the construction of a gradeseparated interchange with four exits that run off and onto Rodney Parham from the Cantrell overpass, as well as a flyover lane. This project brought the first single-point urban interchange to Little Rock.
According to ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor, 59,000 drivers pass through Cantrell’s intersection with Rodney Parham every single day. State Highway Commissioner Marie Holder added that 84,000 vehicles a day travel through the Cantrell / 430 intersection.
“Before this project was started, it wasn’t unusual to see traffic back up in the mornings and the afternoons as people headed to work and school during rush hour,” Holder said. “With these improvements, I’m happy to report that that congestion is a thing of the past.”
300-Ton Kiln Crosses South Arkansas in 6 Days
Over six days, a 600,000-pound kiln furnace imported from Italy was transported along state highways from Crossett to the Veolia Thermal Hazardous Waste Treatment Operation in Gum Springs.
“Arkansas highways have seen many things in their day, but a 300-ton kiln transport was definitely one of the most memorable,” said a tweet from ARDOT. “To anyone who got stuck behind it -- thanks for being patient with us! Roads are all clear.”
ARDOT and the Arkansas Highway Police assisted with the journey, and the kiln arrived safely. Additionally, ARDOT gave advance notice to expect some delays along the route, since the enormous transport (220 feet long, 20 feet tall, 18 feet wide) could move no faster than 5-20 mph.
New Zero-Emission Buses Hit the Streets
Starting in early or mid-July, five new zeroemission buses will be used by Rock Region METRO.
“As the state’s largest public transit agency, serving Arkansas’s urban core, we are accustomed to being the agency taking on new learning curves, and our foray into electric buses is no different than other METRO ‘firsts’ in that respect,” said Justin Avery, CEO of Rock Region METRO. “We are thankful to our supporters, including the Arkansas federal delegation, for understanding the critical need to diversify our fleet with locally-produced alternate fuel options to ensure service stability and sustainability.”
During the first few months, the buses will be evaluated regarding their range as they rotate between several different routes. They have a range of 220 to 340 miles and operate with 738 kWh of power. As far as charging these new buses, three charging cabinets were installed at Rock Region METRO headquarters. These will allow all five vehicles to be charged simultaneously.
The goal is to remove all diesel-fueled buses from the fleet by the end of 2025.
Recent Victories for Arkansas Roads & Transportation
“The Rock Region METRO team is proud to contribute to a more sustainable future by operating Arkansas’s first electric mass transit buses. Sharing your ride just got even more sustainable.”
- Justin Avery, Rock Region METRO CEO (regarding the new zero-emission buses)
“Before this project was started, it wasn’t unusual to see traffic back up in the mornings and the afternoons as people headed to work and school during rush hour. With these improvements, I’m happy to report that that congestion is a thing of the past.”
- Marie Holder, Arkansas Highway Commission (regarding the completion of the Cantrell Rd. widening)
“This idea that we’re celebrating today, was on the planning calendar when Lyndon Johnson was president. So, we’re not rushing into things here, but by golly, we get things done in Faulkner County.”
- Congressman French Hill (regarding the completion of the Highway 89 bypass in Mayflower)
People, Projects, Promotions Transportation Connections
Colton Cowles has been selected as the Alternative Project Delivery Manager effective July 1, 2023.
Cowles has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the UA, Fayetteville. He is a Registered Professional Engineer.
Cowles began his career with ARDOT as an Intern before being hired in December 2011 as a full-time Engineer in RE Office #95 in Yellville. He followed the engineering career path, advancing to Resident Engineer in RE Office #61 in North Little Rock in December 2017. Cowles obtained his current position of Staff Construction Engineer in August 2020.
Jason Hughey is being named District Engineer for District Four, effective May 6, 2023. Hughey has a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the UA, Fayetteville. He is a Registered Professional Engineer. Hughey began his career with the Department as an Intern before being hired as a Civil Engineer in the Planning and Research Division in May 2002. In November 2002, he transferred to the Resident Engineer Office #23 in Pine Bluff. Following the engineering career path, he continued to advance until obtaining his current position of District Engineer in District Eight in May 2019.
Andrew Nanneman has been selected as Division Head of Bridge Operations effective July 1, 2023. Nanneman has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of UA, Fayetteville. He is a Registered Professional Engineer and began his career with ARDOT in December 2011 as an Engineer in the Bridge Division. He promoted to Advanced Bridge Design Engineer in May 2014 and moved to the Heavy Bridge Maintenance Section in August 2015. In July 2016, he advanced to Senior Heavy Bridge Maintenance Engineer, and in September 2021, he promoted to Staff Traffic Services Engineer. He transferred back to Heavy Bridge Maintenance in November 2021 as Staff Heavy Bridge Maintenance Engineer. Nanneman promoted to his current title of State Heavy Bridge Maintenance Engineer in January 2022.
Beyond the design
At Garver, our engineering experts go beyond project designs and conference calls. That includes Mark Hammons, who knows the real work gets done alongside the municipalities that connect our state. Because we’re not just building roads and bridges – we’re building infrastructure our communities will count on for generations to come.