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      Study concludes tolls 'feasible' on Interstate 40

      NORTH LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - A study conducted by consultants for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department concluded that it is feasible to add a third lane to Interstate 40 between North Little Rock and West Memphis by adding tolls to pay for it.

      AHTD officials say the move to make I-40 a tollway is still a distant dream.

      Traffic flowed pretty smoothly on I-40 on Thursday, but throw a small wrench into the mix and you can end up with a traffic nightmare similar to the one that plagued the interstate back in March.

      "It can be hectic, especially certain times of the day," said Todd Hurley, a trucker from Iowa.

      Traffic concerns are the main reason Interstate 40 has been designated eligible for expansion by AHTD. Danny Straessle, AHTD spokesman, said it's something the highway department has been considering for a while - in addition to the tolls. But there's a hang-up when it comes to the tolls.

      "The Federal Highway Administration will not allow states to toll existing facilities," said Straessle, adding that stipulation wouldn't allow AHTD to add tolls on the existing two lanes of I-40.

      But the study concluded the toll would have to be across all three lanes of traffic in order to collect enough revenue to pay for the new lane.

      A federal pilot program exists to get around that federal provision; however, the spots for the program are already taken by three states: Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia.

      Straessle said by AHTD having accepted the study at their commission meeting on Wednesday, they have put themselves in the position to grab a spot if it became available - a strong possibility.

      The tolls, if allowed, would also function as a revenue source for upkeep of the highway, in addition to the construction of the new lane.

      More than 50 percent of the 40,000 drivers on I-40 everyday are truck drivers - some for the tolls, others against them.

      "It would be worth it if the roads stay in good shape to keep from tearing your trucks up," said David Berretta.

      "You know interstates, 90 percent of them were paid by the government and I think they need to keep them free," said Michael Christian, busy filling up his 18-wheeler.

      Representatives from the Arkansas Trucking Association said in a statement on Thursday that they are in the middle of the road when it comes to tolling.

      "The Arkansas Trucking Association (ATA) is opposed to the tolling of existing interstate capacity. Federal law currently bans tolling on existing interstates and our industry would be strongly opposed to a change of that policy. However, the ATA does not blankly oppose tolling. In some situations, when new capacity can be generated, providing options for motorists and commercial traffic to pay a premium for access, the industry could support the use of tolls."

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