House Puts Band-Aid On Highway Funding, Womack Calls For Permanent Solution

Jul 15, 2015

Little Rock's Big Rock Interchange, a $150 million project being finished. Future projects by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department are uncertain until federal funding is resolved.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A short-term funding bill that will authorize appropriations for federal-aid highway, highway safety and public transportation programs passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. House Wednesday.

The 312-119 vote on H.R. 3038 drew support from members of the state’s congressional delegation as Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, French Hill, R-Little Rock, Steve Womack, R-Rogers and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, all voted yes.

In a statement Wednesday, Womack, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said the time was now for a more definitive funding measure.

“We desperately need a long-term highway funding bill, and it is frustrating that a permanent, sustainable, and agreeable revenue source still evades Congress,” said Womack, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee as well as the Budget Committee. “Arkansas’s roads and bridges are in dire need of repair, and they are not waiting for Congress as they continue to crumble.”

He added, “I remain committed to finding a long-term solution but believe that we must provide states some level of certainty to prevent a critical interruption in transportation investment while we work towards returning solvency and dependability to the Highway Trust Fund once and for all.”

The bill, which will fund programs through Dec. 18, 2015, has been a discussion point for federal, state and local officials for several years.

Short of federal action, Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed a 20-member commission in June to discuss the highway funding issue. Hutchinson said the Working Group for Highway Funding has to look outside the box to complete much-needed projects.

“I want you to be creative,” Hutchinson said. “I want you to really look at what’s happening in other states. I want to look at public-private partnerships. I want to look at vehicle miles traveled as a means versus simply per gallon excise taxes. We’ve got to take in the where we’re going to be not just today, but where we’re going to be 10 years from now. How many cars on the road will be electric cars 10 years from now?”

The state group is expected to complete a report by the end of the year.

Already this year due to federal funding uncertainty, roughly 75 projects across Arkansas with an estimated value of $335 million have been cancelled.

UPDATE: Cong. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:

“Arkansas still needs a long term highway bill to address our outdated roads and bridges that facilitate crucial economic growth throughout our state. I’m disappointed, as are all Arkansans, that a long-term, sustainable funding mechanism for the highway bill has yet to be found, but in the mean time we must continue to fund our current transportation investments to keep the problem from getting worse. This short-term patch will allow all current programs to operate, and I will continue to work with Chairman Shuster and the rest of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in fighting for a permanent mechanism that funds the full reauthorization our country so desperately needs.”

Cong. French Hill, R-Little Rock, who serves on the House Finance Committee:

“The temporary extension is an appropriate measure considering the current funding was coming to an end. However, this can’t be an issue where we continuously pass short-term deals because we don’t have long-term solutions. As I have said many times before, we need a 5-7 year plan that can revamp our infrastructure so that it effectively provides for our changing economies. I am eager to work with my colleagues to create a solution that will accomplish this goal.”

Cong. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said:

“Today, the House of Representatives passed a five month extension of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Because we have immediate needs, I supported this short-term fix, although it provides no certainty to states like Arkansas. My bill, the Prioritizing American Jobs and Roads Act, would fully fund our transportation and infrastructure needs. It does this without raising taxes. It is the solution we need to keep Arkansas highway projects moving forward.”

Westerman’s bill would pare money from the Medicaid expansion funds under the Affordable Care Act and utilize a portion of it for highway funding.