Infrastructure Deal Finally Gets Done


Infrastructure Deal Finally Gets Done
Evening rush hour traffic moves through the Interstate 30 Crossing construction zone in Little Rock on Nov. 23. (Illustration based on photo courtesy Arkansas Department of Transportation)

It was touch and go for a while, but President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act on Nov. 15.

The plan originally called for more than $2 trillion in spending on not just infrastructure but also things such as caregiving services and affordable housing. Not surprisingly, the final bill got pared down considerably and wound up at around $1 trillion.

The White House called the new law a “once-in-a-generation investment in our infrastructure and economic competitiveness.”

The final vote was more bipartisan than most issues in the last few years, passing the Senate 69-30 with 19 Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voting for it. The vote was 228-206 in the House of Representatives; all six members of the Arkansas delegation voted against the bill.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson released a statement supporting Congress for setting aside “partisan differences” to pass the bill.

A former high-ranking government official had a different take, calling McConnell a “Broken Old Crow” and “stupid” for allowing the bill’s passage. I’ll leave y’all to guess to whom I’m referring.

The new infrastructure law will have significant benefits for Arkansas. The windfall is expected to provide $3.6 billion for Arkansas roads and $278 million for bridge repair and replacement.

The White House estimated that Arkansas would receive $4.96 billion during the next 10 years, which comes out to $1,600 and change per resident.

When the bill was first proposed earlier this year, it included more spending on items that aren’t traditionally considered infrastructure. That led to some criticisms from the right — those on the left criticized the bill for other reasons, naturally — about such proposals as $400 million for caregiving services and $213 billion for public housing.

But even many conservatives were in favor of spending on things such as broadband access expansion. Arkansas, which has large swaths of rural populations, will get $100 million to make sure those citizens have access to the internet.

State Highway Commissioner Philip Taldo of Springdale, when I interviewed him a few months ago, said building broadband access is just as important as building schools and the roads leading to those schools. Taldo, a political and personal friend of Hutchinson, said broadband expansion was a critical educational tool.

“These kids have to have it to keep up with their own classmates,” Taldo said. “It’s not just the country, the state or the world. They have to keep up in their own classroom.”

But the big need, obviously, is the bedrock infrastructure of the country and state, something that has been given short shrift over the years. In the past few years, though, Arkansas has passed, through a ballot initiative and through legislation, funding apparatuses that are expected to generate $300 million in annual highway funding.

The money, as has been documented through the years here and elsewhere, is needed because Arkansas roads and bridges are in need of upkeep and replacement. There are also some big projects that Arkansas has wanted to undertake, and with federal infrastructure funding, maybe some of these things can get underway. Certainly, the regular maintenance, repair and replacement of the state’s bridges and roads will benefit from the infusion of capital.

Let’s not forget that just a few months ago the Interstate 40 bridge spanning the Arkansas River between Memphis and West Memphis was shut down for three months to repair a crack in a support beam. The bill for that emergency replacement came out to about $10 million, according to the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

Perhaps having more money in the coffers will help crews catch and fix more trouble spots before they become big-ticket repairs.