Weekly Columns

The Senate will have a lengthy to-do list awaiting us when we reconvene in Washington next month. While some of the items on our to-do list will likely get slowed down by long, partisan debates, one that should receive quick, bipartisan support is the reauthorization of the highway bill.

The Highway Trust Fund is set to expire next year. However, since Republicans and Democrats have traditionally found common ground on infrastructure, this should be an issue that we can resolve well in advance of the deadline. We have a good head start, thanks to the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee’s unanimous approval of the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019

The bill authorizes $287 billion for upgrades that will improve the connectivity, efficiency and safety of our highways across the country. It provides resources and flexibility for states to build safer and more modern highway, rail and bridge systems. It also includes reforms for which I negotiated that will cut bureaucratic red tape, streamline review processes and improve safety in rural America. 

Additionally, the EPW Committee amended the bill to include language that Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and I authored that would make federal discretionary grant funding available to modernize and deepen McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS). This amendment, along with another provision Sen. Inhofe authored, would open up $250 million in non-highway formula funding for Oklahoma to use for the MKARNS and will allow Arkansas and Oklahoma to jointly apply for federal freight grants that will total over $5 billion in the five years following the enactment of this legislation. 

Expanding opportunities to fund improvements to the MKARNS is a key factor in leveraging its full economic potential. For far too long, the MKARNS has been operating under a critical backlog of much needed modernizations. Our changes will provide the MKARNS with a number of new funding outlets that were not previously available to this important project, bringing increased traffic to the waterways.  

At its core, the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019is about jobs. Our national economy thrives in part because of the efforts to inter-connect the United States 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. 

While the state and local economies receive a short-term boost from highway projects once they are underway, the true impact is felt over the long-term through the increase in regional commerce. 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, so it is of vital importance to Arkansas’s economic outlook that we reauthorize the Highway Trust Fund.  

However, there are more than economic reasons to get this bill across the finish line. 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 for addressing safety concerns. 

Now is the time to push ahead and make sensible, productive investments in our nation’s infrastructure. Doing so will ultimately save money in the long-term. It will also help our economy grow and equip our country with the necessary resources to remain competitive in the global economy in the years ahead.