Weekly Columns

Our national economy thrives in part because of how inter-connected the United States has been throughout its history. The ability to efficiently move goods and services across the country is a critical factor as to why the U.S. has been able to compete and thrive within the global marketplace.

Currently, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee is working with the Trump Administration to develop legislation to address our nation’s infrastructure needs. My colleagues on the committee and I have stressed to the administration that it is time to broaden the scope of traditional infrastructure investment. And it appears that President Trump has taken notice.

During a recent EPW Committee hearing, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao offered assurances that the administration’s infrastructure proposal will not just address the three R’s traditionally associated with infrastructure (roads, rails and runways). Secretary Chao explained energy, water and broadband will be included in their infrastructure proposal. 

Ensuring Washington does not lose sight of the fact that our infrastructure needs go well beyond the traditional focus has long been a priority for me.

Earlier this year, I joined with Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) to introduce bipartisan legislation to bring affordable relief to America’s crumbling water infrastructure systems. Our bill, the Clean, Safe, Reliable Water Infrastructure Act, would amend current law to expand the availability of resources for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

For the same reason, I joined my co-chairs of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus to press President Trump to include initiatives to promote the deployment of high-speed, reliable broadband for all Americans as part of any infrastructure initiative. 

Expanding broadband access will empower Americans living in every community–from urban city centers to rural towns–with economic opportunities that will jumpstart growth in jobs and wages. For every $5 billion invested in broadband infrastructure, 250,000 jobs are created, and with every percentage point increase in new broadband distribution, employment expands by 300,000.

The traditional three R’s of infrastructure must certainly be a major focus of the overall infrastructure plan. There are several reasons for us to invest seriously in our roads, rails and runways in the immediate future.

First, safety is becoming an issue. Some of our roads and bridges are actually beginning to crumble and deteriorate. We’ve employed temporary measures that have succeeded in repairing and rebuilding many of these deficiencies in the short term, but upgrading and enhancing them is a better and more cost-effective long-term solution.

Another reason it’s important to build and maintain efficient transportation structures is that the quality of a state’s infrastructure is near the top of the list of factors that business owners consider when deciding where to locate a business or enterprise. That’s why I recently included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2017 funding bill that enables Arkansas to designate a portion of Highway 67, from North Little Rock to Walnut Ridge, as “Future I-57.”

Our infrastructure needs can’t be a partisan issue. Now is the time to push ahead and make sensible, productive investments in our nation’s infrastructure. Doing so now will ultimately save money in the long term. It will also help our economy grow and equip our country to remain competitive in the global economy in the years ahead.