Weekly Columns

My daughters kept themselves occupied for the nearly three hour drive from our Rogers home to Petit Jean State Park for our annual summer vacation. There were some summers where they became restless because road construction kept us in the car longer than expected. While the construction cones and road crews may not be a welcome sight if you’re on a road trip with children, it’s a sign of progress, investment and economic development. Unfortunately the availability of federal funding is stopping some Arkansas road repairs before they even start. 

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department recently postponed 10 road projects, totaling more than $60 million, because of uncertainty with the Highway Trust Fund. This is the major source of funding for road improvements nationwide and it’s expected to run out of money late this summer. An empty trust fund isn’t good for our economy. The inability to guarantee timely reimbursement for these projects also means job losses in our state. 

Congress must address this crisis and revamp the funding mechanism to the Highway Trust Fund. The current funding instrument - the highway fuel tax - is outdated and inefficient. Increasing costs at the gas pump change driving habits and more fuel efficient cars means less money for the highway fuel tax account. Right now there is more money being spent from the account than coming in. 

As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, I am engaged in hearings and discussions about how to address this problem. In May, committee members unanimously supported a six-year surface transportation bill. The MAP-21 Reauthorization Act provides for the maintenance of our existing roads and it will also allow for the proper development of our nation’s infrastructure in the coming years. This legislation lays the groundwork to provide certainty for our nation’s transportation and infrastructure projects. 

This strong bipartisan support should serve as an example for Senators who work on other committees with jurisdiction on this important piece of legislation. I encourage members of the Finance Committee to work together in the same fashion and find a reasonable answer that enables us to contribute to infrastructure and transportation projects in a fiscally responsible manner. 

Determining a funding mechanism is vital because Arkansas stands to benefit greatly from the reauthorization. The EPW-passed legislation increases estimated funding to the state over the next six years. This allows Arkansas the opportunity to make greater strides in completing projects, putting more people to work and making travel safer. 

Projects of national significance like I-49 are also eligible for federal assistance. This north-south corridor will connect the Port of New Orleans to Canada once it’s finished. The largest incomplete portion of I-49 is between Texarkana and Fort Smith.  

Sensible infrastructure investments save money in the long-term, create immediate jobs and produce decades of economic opportunity for communities. This is an important key to long lasting growth and development. While road construction can be an inconvenience for drivers, it’s an encouraging sign of improvement for our state and nation.