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The Arkansas Department of Transportation oversees the planning, maintenance, and policing of state roads and highways.
Act 302 of 1913 established the State Highway Commission and renamed the Department of State Lands as the Department of State Lands, Highways and Improvements. However, there remained no designated highway system in the state. In 1921, a federal law required states to designate a system of state highways, to be managed by a state highway department. In 1923, a few months following the closure of the Department of State Lands, Highways and Improvements due to the Arkansas General Assembly’s failure to appropriate money for the agency, the governor called a special session of the legislature to deal with the resulting problems, eventually signing into law Act 5 of the Special Session of 1923, also known as the Harrelson Road Law, which established a system of approximately 6,700 miles of state highways and expanded the powers of the Highway Commission. Only after the passage of Act 65 of 1929 was the Arkansas Highway Department (AHD), as well as the commission overseeing its operations, separated from the Department of State Lands, Highways and Improvements. Ten years later, a building was constructed on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds to house the various divisions of the agency.
The State Highway Commission overseeing the department was expanded several times; Act 239 of 1949 raised the number of members to twelve. However, during the administration of Governor Sid McMath, who made road improvement one of the platforms of his candidacy, allegations surfaced that roads were being built in exchange for political favors. Public hearings by an independent audit commission in February 1952 brought to light numerous instances of mismanagement and ostensible corruption in the agency. In November 1952, voters passed Amendment 42 to the state constitution, which reduced the State Highway Commission to five members with staggered terms.
In 1963, the Weights and Standards Division of the Arkansas State Police was transferred to the AHD; this became, in 1979, the Arkansas Highway Police. In November 1966, the department moved into a new headquarters in southwest Little Rock (Pulaski County). Act 445 of 1973 created within the AHD the Division of State Aid Road Construction to assist county judges in planning and designing projects for which they were requesting monies from the State Aid Road Fund. In 1977, Act 192 renamed the AHD the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) and gave the agency responsibility for rail service and public transportation programs. Act 153 of the First Special Session of 1989 transferred the Transportation Safety Agency to AHTD.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation oversees a number of programs related to Arkansas roads, including the Scenic Byways Program, Historic Bridges Program, and Wildflower Program, the last of which provides wildflowers for the beautification of state roadways. The department also provides funding for the construction and maintenance of recreational trails for both motorized and non-motorized transport. Act 707 of 2017 renamed the department the Arkansas Department of Transportation.
For additional information:
Arkansas Department of Transportation. http://www.arkansashighways.com/ (accessed November 1, 2018).
Historical Review, Volume Two: Arkansas State Highway Commission and Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 1913–2003. Little Rock: Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 2004.
Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 11/1/2018
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