From time to time we have candidates for public office post on our Facebook group that they are seeking our vote and to donate to their campaign. We don’t allow that since we are a nonpartisan group. Also we expect a candidate to work for our vote.
We do want to hear from candidates about their transportation platform. ORBTS is an education and research group and knowing where candidates stand on issues we care about is part of our program. Also before you post that you hate buses, trains, and so on. Or that you intend to defund Amtrak please keep this in mind. We also use our votes to remove or keep someone from office if they are harmful to our agenda. Fair warning.
I’m going to title this The Arkansas Express because of the history of railroading in our state. The Arkansas Express ran from Kansas City down through NWA to Mena. I propose we call our State’s Big Picture Rail Program The Arkansas Express Project.
As it happens, I am running for office. So I thought I’d provide a model, not for policy though that is okay too. But for the kind of informative post we look for here at ORBTS. So here goes.
I’m Richard Billingsley and I’m a candidate for Arkansas State Representative District 19. I’m running because we need to be proactive about our future. I’ve seen that reactive policies are too little too late, and more expensive. We need to plan ahead for an NWA that has a population of over 1.2 million people about double where we are now.
For decades we have known that burning fossil fuels are dangerous for life on this planet. At the same time, the majority of Arkansas citizens live in poverty. Except for a couple of brights spots such as our corner – NWA, most of Arkansas is losing population, jobs, and opportunities. If this trend keeps up, we will have large areas in our state that are food and pharmacy deserts. Young people will have no way to support themselves. Too many Arkansas communities have median incomes of less that $10,000 a year. This will only get worse. We can’t depend on someone to come save us. We have to do this ourselves.
We need a bold new vision for Arkansas. A vision that will bring prosperity back to our communities. That helps reduce pollution and our dependence on not only foreign oil but oil in general.
A Big Picture Rail Plan, which I propose we call The Arkansas Express Project, will help us realize these goals. We want to build commuter rail and/or light rail in our more urban areas such as NWA, Little Rock, and Northeast Arkansas. We want to be connected to a nationwide passenger rail network. We want to use rail, not tractor trailer trucks, to bring us packages from Wal-Mart.com and Amazon.com. We want a High Speed Rail system in Arkansas in addition to fast passenger rail.
We will get the money for The Arkansas Express Project from several sources. One, I support raising money locally for public transit. That means local sales tax money. I will work from day one to lower Arkansas state sales tax by 2 cents. That will give us room for a quarter cent sales tax locally and we will still reduce sales taxes overall. The State has a $1.2 billion highway fund. The State also has a $1 billion surplus in the budget. And we have our share of the Volkswagen Diesel Gate Settlement, about $14 million. Out of all these sources we can put together a State Rail Budget of $150 million. Then with 70% Federal matching funds we will have a $500 million a year budget. If we aim higher we can raise $300 million toward a $1 billion State Rail Budget.
This is money that will go to work in our communities. The Arkansas Express Project will immediately start to create as many as 10,000 high paying construction jobs across our state. Jobs paying from $60K to over $100K a year even and especially in those small communities that are desperately poor. And it will create many other jobs too. For every construction job there will be an impact of 4+ more jobs created in the economy. Keep in mind too, that highways don’t make money, employ people, or pay taxes. Railroads do all three. Good paying permanient railroad jobs will be created as well.
The Arkansas Express Project will cost less too. Railroads cost about 50 to 60% less than highways. For one thing you don’t need as much land to build a railroad. And if you need to increase capacity, you buy more train sets, not expand more lanes. Another cost saving.
So we can afford to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Create jobs, and prosperity. Use our state’s financial resources more efficiently. And build a case for companies to bring more jobs to Arkansas. We can make it happen.