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      AHTD puts off 10 planned construction projects

      LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Morethan $60 million worth of state construction projects are on hold for now, allthe result of uncertainty of federal-aid reimbursements from the FederalHighway Trust Fund.{} The Arkansas Highwayand Transportation Department is relying on Congress to step in and find a wayto grow the rapidly shrinking trust fund.

      In Pulaski County, theU.S. 70 Roosevelt Road Viaduct in Little Rock, along with the Remount RoadBridge over Five Mile Creek in North Little Rock were set for replacement in2015.{} But those projects along witheight other projects statewide are all being put on hold.

      "It's not fiscallyresponsible to just move forward with it not knowing whether or not you'd beable to pay contractors," said Danny Straessle, spokesperson for AHTD.

      That money that wassupposed to fund those ten projects was coming from that Federal Highway TrustFund and the Congressional Budget Office in Washington says that money is setto dry up by August.

      "In Arkansas, more than 70percent of the construction projects we do are federally funded," saidStraessle.

      The state identified thefollowing projects to postpone starting in 2015:

      • Chicot County - Highway165/Rehabilitation of 4.3 miles
      • Conway County - HIghways 9 &9B/Traffic signal upgrade (Morrilton)
      • Craighead County - Highway 226/CashBypass Base and Surfacing
      • Franklin County - CityStreet/Connect Hillbilly Lane to Hwy. 23 (Mulberry)
      • Independence County - Highway167/Widening 5.0 miles
      • Pulaski County - Highway 70(Roosevelt Rd.)/Bridge replacement (LR)
      • Pulaski County - City Street(Remount Rd.)/Bridge replacement (NLR)
      • Various - Highways 67, 84, 79, 7,82/Bridge painting
      • Lawrence County - Highway63/Widening 1.5 miles
      • GarlandCounty - County Road 79/Bridge Replacement

      TOTAL= $62,234,000

      "We still have 70 projects that we're going to let to bidin April, to the tune of 150 million dollars," said Straessle.{} "Some of those are federally funded projects,but they have a shorter duration."

      All the projects selected for postponement would take atleast two years for completion according to Straessle and he said they want toavoid not being able to continue payments on something they start.{}

      "Based on our evaluation, if we execute all contractsthat are scheduled for the April letting, the Department may not have adequatefunds to ensure full payments to contractors during this period of reduced Federalreimbursements," stated AHTD Director Scott Bennett in a press release.

      Bennett sent a letter to Congress last week urging actionto ward off a potential shortfall of funds to be distributed to Arkansas andother states.

      Straessle said the current situation Congress findsitself in is due to more money going out from the Highway Trust Fund and lesscoming in from the federal gas tax.{} IfCongress doesn't find another way to fund the trust fund, the already postponedstate projects could be postponed further and it could encompass more projectsdown the road.