As the 2019 Arkansas State Legislature begins Monday, two of Fort Smith’s state representatives say highway funding is critical for the city.

District 78 state Rep. Jay Richardson and District 77 state Rep. Justin Boyd both said their districts are impacted by state highways that have not been maintained. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has called highway funding one of the top priorities for the legislative session though a plan for highway funding has not emerged in the state government, according to the Associated Press.

“You have to invest in your roads to keep and maintain them, and the longer you put them off, the more that maintenance costs. At some point, they just become dysfunctional, and you just have to take them out and rebuild them,” Boyd said. “We’ve got to figure out a plan to deal with that.”

State officials say the state highway system needs an additional $478 million to meet current maintenance and improvement needs. Legislators in 2017 voted against a proposal to place a 20-year bond issue before voters to potentially raise $200 million annually for the state highways, according to the Associated Press.

Boyd said the state funding for highways would simply be to bring them up to reasonable driving condition.

“We’re not even talking about having enough money to say, ‘Build I-49.’ We’re talking about having enough money just to maintain the highways we have,” Boyd said.

Boyd said there are several state highways in his district, including Rogers and Wheeler avenues. This classification keeps the city of Fort Smith from maintaining them.

Richardson specifically mentioned U.S. 71, which is comprised of Midland Boulevard in District 78 and Towson Avenue in District 77, as a state highway of concern in Fort Smith. Towson Avenue over summer 2018 flooded multiple times during downpours. Richardson said Midland Boulevard floods when it rains as well.

Richardson said flooding and potholes on state highways need to be fixed.

“Those are the (issues) that we’re really going to try to get addressed,” he said.

Though he pointed out flaws in the local state highways, Richardson was optimistic about the appointment of Keith Gibson of Fort Smith to the Arkansas Highway Commission. The Highway Commission, which is independent of state legislative branches, administers the duties of the Arkansas Department of Transportation with funds approved by the state government.

But this doesn’t take Richardson’s or Boyd’s focus off highway funds.

“From an appropriation standpoint, I’ll need to really get up to speed on that real quick,” said Richardson, who begins his first legislative session on Monday.

“Most likely, the solution will involve referring something to the people to vote on, so one of the first things we will address right out of the starting gate is the issue of this shortfall of highway funding,” Boyd said.

The Arkansas General Assembly convenes at noon Monday in Little Rock.