The latest addition to the Arkansas State Highway Commission is an asset to the state and to the Fort Smith region, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Hutchinson on Wednesday appointed Pinnacle Communications President and Chairman and past Arkansas Telephone Association President Keith Gibson to the Highway Commission. Gibson is the first Arkansas highway commissioner from the Fort Smith region to be appointed for a full 10-year term since 1969, Hutchinson said.

"With this appointment today, the governor has appreciation for and is committed to this area, as well as to the state," Gibson said.

The Highway Commission is independent of any state legislative branch and administers the duties of the Arkansas Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation uses funds approved by the state government.

Hutchinson on Wednesday said 2019 is an important year for the state's highway commission because state officials are asking the general assembly to make a recommendation on a new highway funding plan. He also said infrastructure has become increasingly important to Arkansas.

"It’s always been important, but with the growth in the state of Arkansas, with our infrastructure needs, with the costs that are associated with it — all of this means we have to have new ideas, we have to have leadership that keeps up with the national best practices, that also serves the citizens of our whole state," Hutchinson said. "That’s why our appointment is so critical."

At a local level, Gibson joins the Highway Commission amid discussion surrounding future development around the Interstate 49 bridge in the Chaffee Crossing area. District 77 state Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, in August also reached out to Fort Smith and Department of Transportation officials to address flooding on Towson Avenue, which is part of U.S. 71.

Hutchinson specifically said the I-49 bridge is part of the eventual full development from Kansas City to Louisiana.

"It would be such an economic boost for the River Valley, but also between here and Texarkana," Hutchinson said. "We’re a long ways from getting that done. We have to have additional funding that’s available."

Though Gibson said he cares about the Interstate 49 bridge and Towson Avenue, he declined to say any specific actions he would take as a commissioner. He said he plans to listen and learn in his early days in office.

"Once I have time to learn about these issues and learn more about the Highway Department — not only financially, but in other ways — then I’ll be able to make more intelligent decisions about those kind of things," Gibson said.

"We needed to have someone on the highway commission from this area," Hutchinson said. "It's very timely for this appointment, and it provides a very balanced representation for the highway commission."

"I’m honored, and I have to say humbled, by the governor’s appointment," Gibson said. "It’s really not about me today — it’s more about the Fort Smith area and the people of this region."