Radio Column

Asa Arkansas's Governor

Bridging the Gap

07/31/2015

Column Transcript

If you live in East Arkansas, or travel to Memphis on occasion, you received some good news this week: the plan to close the Interstate-55 bridge over the Mississippi River has been put on hold.

Some 40,000 vehicles cross that bridge every day. The only other access to Memphis is the I-40 bridge, which handles even more traffic.

Imagine the congestion with an additional 40,000 cars and trucks on I-40 — already one of the most traveled interstates in the country.

Also, imagine the disastrous impact on commerce, tourism and daily living.

Now imagine all that disruption for nine solid months, which is how long it would take to build a new intersection on the Tennessee side of the river and keep I-55 shut down.

In my office, we did more than imagine it. We did something to stop it from happening.

In anticipation of my meeting with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam on this issue, we gathered information on the impact of this project on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River and sent it h is way.

Besides the obvious traffic problems, the economy would have suffered a lasting blow. Southland Park alone estimated an annual loss to city, county and state tax coffers of up to $10.5 million.

A study from the Tennessee Department of Transportation once estimated the regional economic loss if both bridges were to be closed. The number is staggering: $45 million a week. Given that fact, you can see that even if one bridge were to close for nine months, the impact would have been enormous. One West Memphis resident even told the newspaper that closing the bridge “could kill our community.”

So last week, at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Colorado, I sat down with Governor Bill Haslam to talk about the bridge closing. He greeted me by saying that he had good news. He had read the prep material from our office, talked with his Transportation commission, and delayed construction on the project.

The bridge will remain open, and life and business will continue without disruption.

There is a long-term, economic-development issue at play here, too. Because there is another possibility we don’t want to imagine: an industry deciding not to locate in Arkansas because it didn’t want to risk another bridge closure similar to I-55.

At times, government can seem like a graveyard for common sense. When that happens, it’s important for those in charge to take charge. A simple application of communication and common sense can make a big difference.

Thanks to the cooperation of Governor Haslam, the local legislators and the efforts of my office, it did for the residents of West Memphis and East Arkansas.