Weekly Columns

I recently used this space to highlight how the Senate has been moving more legislation than I’ve seen in the previous years that I’ve served in this body.

Eights months into this year, we’ve passed over seventy bills—thirty of which have been signed into law.

One bill we passed just before adjourning for the August in-state work period is of particular importance to Arkansans. That’s a long-term Highway Bill. And while it isn’t yet on the list of bills signed into law, it’s my hope that it will be in the coming months.

The Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act provides a six-year road map for federal highway programs financed by the Highway Trust Fund. This bill will create new jobs, reduce congestion, provide a sustaining boost to our nation’s economy and keep America competitive in the global marketplace.

The DRIVE Act revamps federal highway programs and makes sure revenue that is supposed to go to infrastructure is returned to the states to build and repair roads and bridges. It saves money by providing a steady and reliable framework for project planning. It will create immediate jobs and produce decades of economic opportunity for communities.

Since our country’s beginnings, infrastructure has been a shared responsibility between the federal government, the states and local communities. Since the days of George Washington, federal taxpayers have supported the construction of roads, canals, harbors and navigations aids, such as lighthouses. We all have a stake in our nation’s and our state’s infrastructure.

As I travel throughout Arkansas, I’m reminded that our state must keep up with growth and the pressure it puts on our roads and bridges. We need to invest Arkansas taxpayer’s money back into our state to repair existing roads and build new projects to help traffic move more smoothly.

Over it’s six-year span, the DRIVE Act would return $3.4 billion of Arkansas taxpayer funds back into our state’s infrastructure. That means better roads and more jobs in our communities. This is an important key to long lasting growth and development. The quality of a state’s infrastructure is near the top of the list of factors business owners take into consideration when they decide where to locate.

Economic reasons aren’t the only reason we need to pass this bill. In 2013, 483 lives were tragically lost on Arkansas roads. Better roads will be safer roads.

A long-term bill is way overdue. Congress has passed thirty-three short-term extensions to the Highway Bill since 2009. This is not a responsible way to address our nation’s infrastructure needs.

Since the House of Representatives adjourned for it’s August work break before we passed the DRIVE Act, we had to pass yet another short-term extension. This one extends the current highway program through Oct. 29, 2015.

However, the House has pledged to take up a long-term bill when members return. I am committed to working with both my House and Senate colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, to ensure the core of the DRIVE Act is included in the final product.

Arkansas and other states cannot and should not have to rely on short-term funding that fails to provide certainty for important infrastructure improvements. I am confident that we can come to an agreement to pass a long-term solution in the coming months.