Weekly Columns

From the water we use in our homes, to the roads we drive on to work, to the food we buy at the grocery store, our nation’s infrastructure is a fundamental component of everything we do. Our ability to be connected and efficiently move goods across the country is a significant reason why we’ve been so competitive in the global marketplace. Investment in our infrastructure will also be key to helping our economy recover from the crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic. 

As a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), I have long been a champion of investing in our infrastructure. In May, the committee unanimously passed water infrastructure packages that will help create jobs and rebuild aging levees, ports and drinking water systems. Coupled with the plan we approved last year to provide the necessary resources and flexibility for states to build safer and more modern highway, rail and bridge systems, we have created a good, bipartisan road to recovery. I am hopeful the full Senate will approve these bills in the coming months.

In the meantime, Arkansas leaders are tapping into additional resources Congress approved to support infrastructure improvements and economic growth.  

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) recently invested $2 million in the Port of Little Rock to support industrial development. The port features rail, river and interstate highway access, making it a critical component to move goods to and from the region and an attractive location for the expansion of new businesses.

I recently participated in the groundbreaking ceremony at the Port of Little Rock for the new transportation infrastructure improvements support by the EDA grant and state and local funds. The port is the largest industrial hub in central Arkansas with over 40 businesses employing more than 4,000 people. Those numbers are increasing. The day following the celebration, Amazon announced its first fulfillment center in the state is under construction at the Port of Little Rock. The company expects 1,000 people will be employed at the location when it opens in 2021. 

Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) leaders hope to accomplish similar gains along a stretch of U.S. Highway 67. Last month, the department was named a recipient of a $40 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to reconstruct and enhance two sections of U.S. Highway 67 in Pulaski and Lonoke Counties.  

The funding will allow the widening of U.S. Highway 67 from four to six lanes, construction of an overpass, converting frontage roads to one-way operation and reconstructing two interchanges.  

This is one of only 20 projects nationwide to be awarded Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program funds. The competitive program leverages federal resources and incentivizes public-private partnerships to help communities invest in high-priority projects.  

In recent years, Congress has funded competitive grant programs to support infrastructure improvements. In addition to INFRA grants, ARDOT has also benefitted from the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program for use toward the construction of the Hot Springs bypass extension and the I-49 Bella Vista bypass.  

I will continue to support state and local applications for federal funding in order to make infrastructure improvements. As we pursue policies to improve our economy, investing in our roads, bridges and other vital transportation components remains essential.