Washington – Last night, Representative Rick Crawford’s amendment #60, which allows an exemption for agricultural vehicles on Future I-555, was included in H.R. 3763, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, or the “Highway Bill.” H.R. 3763, which passed the House earlier this morning, will now proceed to the conferencing process with the Senate bill, to which Senator John Boozman has added similar exemption language.
Representative Rick Crawford, who was chosen as a conferee shortly after the bill’s passage, will help reconcile differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. After the bill’s passage, Representative Rick Crawford released the following statement:
“The short extensions which the House passed earlier this year don’t give Arkansans the type of long-term security they need in a transportation bill, so I’m very pleased that the House has finally passed a long-term bill, especially one that includes an exemption for the floodway section of US 63. For years, Arkansas has sought interstate status for U.S. 63, but has been unable to bear the $30-$50 million expense needed to build an access road for agricultural vehicles across the St. Francis floodway. My amendment will allow for the interstate designation to move forward while at the same time allowing for traditional use of the floodway bridge.
As a conferee during the reconciliation process, I hope to work quickly with my colleagues towards producing a final version that works for the First District and all of Arkansas.”
Background on I-555 Amendment:
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) has worked in the past with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to designate U.S. 63 as Future I-555. An interstate designation would be a great boon to Jonesboro and all of northeast Arkansas. However, if U.S. 63 were designated as interstate, agricultural vehicles like cotton modules, dump trucks, and logging trucks would not be allowed to use certain bridges that they have used for years. Once the highway gains interstate status, the federal bridge formula for Interstates would apply, and many agricultural vehicles are non-compliant with those rules. For example, agricultural vehicles that currently drive a few short minutes across the St. Francis Floodway bridge by Marked Tree would be forced to take a 90 mile detour around the sunken lands.
A separate access road spanning the floodway has been the leading solution for several years, although the cost of building a separate road for agricultural vehicles is estimated to be $30 million to $50 million — for road only 3 miles long. Instead, Representative Crawford has proposed an exemption for agricultural vehicles along the 3 mile stretch, which would save tens of millions of dollars while at the same time allowing the interstate designation to move forward. Representative Crawford has worked to include the exemption language in the Highway Bill reauthorization.