U.S. Senator Mark Pryor today said Arkansas will benefit from critical highway dollars and student loan relief under a last-minute package of bills passed by the Senate. The package also reauthorizes the flood insurance program, without a measure Pryor opposed that would force individuals living behind sound flood control infrastructure to purchase flood insurance.
"This package is about moving our economy forward. The single, most important step we can take to create private-sector jobs is to invest in our highways and infrastructure," Pryor said. "Investing in today's students will also build a stronger economy for the future."
Improving Arkansas Highways and Making them Safer
Pryor said the two-year highway authorization bill first addresses critical infrastructure needs. Arkansas will receive $1 billion over two years, which would allow the state to make significant progress on major highways and roads. According to 2007 estimates by the United States Department of Transportation, a $1 billion investment in our highways results in 27,800 jobs annually.
Earmarks of specific projects are no longer allowed, giving the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department discretion over where to allocate these federal dollars. Arkansas has a $160 million backlog in highway maintenance needs, a problem that will be compounded as freight travel is expected to double over the next twenty years.
As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection within the Commerce Committee, Pryor played an active role in writing the highway and vehicle safety portion of the bill. His provisions will:
* Keep fatigued truck drivers off the road by requiring commercial truckers to use devices that accurately monitor their hours on the job.
* Prevent dangerous drivers from driving big-rigs by establishing a national database of drug testing information for commercial drivers.
* Step up vehicle safety so families are protected by strong safety standards and devices when an accident occurs. Many of the new provisions were inspired by Toyota's questionable recall practices in 2010. The bill strengthens vehicle safety by updating safety and compliance standards; enhances safety authorities by increasing civil caps and improving DOT's ability to control imports and improve research capacity; increases resources to address emerging electronics and technologies; and prioritizes child safety rulemakings.
* Establish a new grant program for states to enact and enforce laws limiting distracted driving. The measure is named after a Rogers, Arkansas student who died a day before her high school graduation as a result of driving and texting. Her mother has since become a highway safety advocate.
"Under this bill, Arkansas will receive $1 billion to make significant progress on transportation needs. This investment will create good-paying jobs and spur economic development over the next two years," Pryor said. "I'm also pleased we were able to significantly step up highway safety for Arkansas families."
Making College More Affordable
The legislation also prevents federal student loan interest rates from doubling this year, from 3.4% to 6.8%, as a result of this package. The lower interest rate will benefit over 67,000 Arkansas students taking out loans next year, saving them about $1,000 on each loan.
"To gain the upper hand in the 21st Century, we need to make college more affordable so more of our workforce has the skills, knowledge and experience to compete in a global marketplace," Pryor said. "This interest rate break is not forever, but is meant to incentivize students to attend college and lower the debt load they will carry after graduation."
Protecting Arkansans from Buying Unnecessary Flood Insurance
Pryor said he is pleased the National Flood Insurance Program will be reauthorized without a section that requires families to purchase flood insurance simply because they live behind a levee, dam or other flood control structure. After a week of fighting against the insurance requirement, the provision was removed from the legislation.
"In Arkansas and throughout the country, communities have gone to great lengths to build and maintain sound flood control infrastructure. We have some of the best levees in the world that have never once been breached. It simply doesn't make sense to ignore these taxpayer investments, and arbitrarily force these families to fill FEMA's coffers through an unnecessary flood insurance mandate," Pryor said. "I was proud to go to battle for these communities, and I am hopeful we have put this proposal to rest for good."