But, it’s a big step forward for Arkansas and the nation.
On Dec. 4, President Barack Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or “FAST Act.”
After 36 short-term extensions, it has been a long, slow, contentious and bumpy ride to get this long-term transportation bill. A few days prior to the president’s signature, the U.S. House and Senate reached agreement on the bill. The Senate passed by an 83-16 vote. The House passed the bill, also by a large majority, 359-65.
The bill isn’t perfect. Faced with tremendous infrastructure needs, as expected, it falls short of meeting the future funding challenges required to fully address our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
In Arkansas, difficult funding issues remain that have been and will remain in the news in the months and years ahead that must be addressed. The new highway bill necessitates finding additional matching funds estimated at $45 million that will be necessary for Arkansas just to access their portion of the allocated federal highway funds.
That being said, from a big picture perspective, it’s a long overdue and welcome jumpstart. This is the most far-sighted highway bill Congress has passed in more than a decade. For that, Congress deserves credit for their bipartisan efforts. FAST enables states and local governments to move forward with critical transportation-related projects.
The new law calls for spending approximately $205 billion on highways and $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years.
Of that, Arkansas will receive nearly $250 million total in additional funding to improve our highways and bridges over that time frame.
Though this bill takes important steps to re-focus national and state efforts on vital projects and takes significant steps to improve safety on our nation’s highways, the FAST Act is only a step in the right direction not our final destination.
There is a tendency to say — we did it — 10 years in the making… But, the reality is that this is just one responsible stride forward.
Overall, the FAST Act can best be described as a necessary, forward-looking down payment for building a 21st century transportation system, a system that is essential to our nation’s security and continued economic success.
Luckily, the FAST Act was delivered before we enter 2016. The election year will inevitably halt discussions about long-term funding solutions needed to pay for transportation in the future. This issue is not going to solve itself.
Maintaining and modernizing our nation’s infrastructure is necessary in order to have a 21st century economy. It is vital to our economy and the safety of citizens that transportation infrastructure planning in the long-term and short-term be adequately funded.
Merry Christmas America, the passage of the FAST Act acknowledges that you deserve a bright transportation future.