Trump infrastructure spending could benefit Arkansas, but funding and details are scarce
June 15, 2017
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  • Last week, President Donald Trump unveiled the concept of investing up to $1 trillion in infrastructure spending. The plan didn’t outline specific projects or how it would be paid for. Nonetheless, several members of the Arkansas congressional delegation applauded the proposal and an initial step, and said the state could benefit from new projects.

    “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land,” Trump said in a released statement.

    U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., told Talk Business & Politics he supports an infrastructure spending bill. Regulations need to be curtailed, a system of public/private partnerships to spur these projects needs to be established, and job creation needs to be a top priority, he said.

    “Jobs, jobs, jobs. We need to pick the right projects to create jobs,” Boozman said.

    Boozman admitted there is no way to pay for the investment, and the president needs to develop a more specific plan. How it will be paid for remains uncertain until those specifics are lined out, he said.

    Trump’s plan calls for the federal government to spend $200 billion on projects. States, local governments, and the private sector would provide the rest of the funding. Grants would be allotted to rural communities to replace crumbling roads and bridges. Qualified projects of regional and national importance would be vetted under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, and if a project passes muster, it will receive a loan, according to Trump’s proposal. Regulations would be reduced to allow projects to be completed more quickly, but what regulations will be modified or eliminated were not included in the press release.

    One part of his plan does include the privatization of the nation’s air control system.

    U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, told Talk Business & Politics he acknowledges the need for infrastructure spending, the economic benefits generated from the jobs created, and the improved delivery systems that could help to off-set the total costs of those projects, he said.

    “We certainly could use a trillion-dollar project,” he said.

    The nation’s air traffic control system is obsolete and in some cases the technology used is decades behind, he said. The Federal Aviation Administration has difficulty recruiting college graduates because the technology is so bad, he said. Other countries, such as Canada, have much better systems and it needs to be privatized, he said. A system of cooperatives to run air control systems is a reasonable possibility, he said.

    Improvements along U.S. 69 and U.S. 49 in Arkansas would greatly enhance traffic and commerce through the state. It would be part of a broader scheme to better connect Canada with the Gulf of Mexico and all points in between. Arkansas could become a significant thoroughfare and the impact would be felt in neighboring states such as Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Tennessee.

    U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, sent an emailed statement praising the proposal. The Bella Vista Bypass project and a new bridge on U.S. 49 over the Arkansas River in Fort Smith should be priorities under any proposal, he said.

    “It’s no secret that our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. All over the country there are roads, bridges, airports, and waterways that are in dire need of repair,” Womack said.

    Talk Business & Politics reached out to U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., for comment about the proposed spending measure. Cotton’s team is still reviewing the plan and will have a comment once a conclusion is reached, according to an email by his Communications Director Caroline Rabbitt.

    Westerman and Boozman were unsure when a real bill would be formulated in either chamber. Both said they hope a bill will be formulated sometime this year.