Gov. Mike Beebe has set November 8 for a special election on whether to renew $575 million in bonds to repair about 300 miles of interstate highways.

Voters approved the original interstate bond program in 1999 by an overwhelming majority. Those bond issues have paid for repairs to about 350 miles of Arkansas’ some 650 miles of interstate. The last of those bonds are scheduled to be paid off in August of 2014.

The state Highway and Transportation Department has pledged its share of federal funding to pay off the bonds. It also uses revenue from a portion of the state’s diesel tax — 4-cents per gallon — to pay off the bonds.

If voters approve the bond renewal, the state Highway Commission will have authority to renew the bonds for additional repairs to Arkansas interstates. If voters turn down the proposal, the 4-cents per gallon in diesel taxes will still be collected and the state will continue to receive federal funding.

The four cents per gallon in diesel fuel taxes generates about $13.5 million a year in revenue for the state. It generates about $3 million for cities and $3 million for counties to spend on local road improvements.

The 1999 special election to authorize bonds for highway repairs was a milestone in the history of the Arkansas highway department, because it represented a departure from our traditional “pay as you go” method of paying for highway construction. The 1999 interstate program was the first time in 50 years Arkansas had paid for highway repairs with bonds.

Beebe said he set the election for this year, rather than next year, because the 2012 elections will include so many races for elected office and several separate ballot issues.  He said he wanted the highway bonds to be the only issue for voters to focus on.  When several issues appear on the same ballot, as often happens in general elections, it is easier for voters to get confused.