Tuesday, November 16, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Don’t stop Development

Was that a lot of good news for central Arkansas yesterday?

The Little Rock National Airport broke ground for a $50 million expansion and modernization, which Governor Beebe called a shot in the arm for economic development. “This is the front door for business recruits,” he said, and when it is finished it will trigger greater tourism. The place will be far more secure and convenient for travelers, too.

A few miles to the southwest, the state Highway Commission opened bids on the single biggest highway project in the state’s history, the third phase of redevelopment of the interchange of interstate highways 430, 630, 30 and 40, that giant strategic bottleneck on Little Rock’s west side that handles more traffic by far than any corridor in the state. The contract, which is for $78 million, will widen I-630 and construct flyover lanes to speed traffic through the maze. When it is finished in three years, there will be fewer fatal wrecks and who knows how much reduction in blood pressures and road rage.

The first two phases of the interchange project, which are wrapping up, cost about $35 million.

Is there a nexus for all these good works?

It’s federal money, mainly that reviled “stimulus” money, although U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder and the state’s senators had also got a few earmarks and federal transportation and economic-development grants along the way. The highway and airport projects would not be taking place without them. Quite a few other road and bridge projects across the state have been undertaken or finished in the past 18 months with stimulus funds.

If memory serves, the Republican candidates for Congress, every one of them, condemned President Obama’s stimulus program as money down a rat hole that created no jobs but bloated the deficit.

They may indeed have enlarged the deficit a bit, although the economic activity all of it created and is about to create will offset the spending with more federal, state and local receipts from income, excise and sales taxes. Those men in pith helmets out at the Shackleford interchange look like real people to us, not phantoms. We could be wrong.

Sen.-elect John Boozman, who as a congressman has been a champion of federal pork for his district, now says he will join with the new Senate leadership and seek no more money for Arkansas projects to demonstrate the Republican resolve to get the deficit under control.

Here’s a bet. When they dedicate the new airport and the new interchange, Sen. Boozman and our new congressman, Tim Griffin (if he’s still around then), will be there to get their pictures taken cutting the ribbons.