As home to seven Fortune 500 companies, including the world's top retailer, Arkansas is constantly seeking to upgrade its infrastructure to ensure goods and people can get to where they need to be. State-level efforts to improve infrastructure through public-private partnerships are on the right track, but to retain and attract new businesses to Arkansas, private investment must play a larger role.
Across the United States, infrastructure is failing; earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation's overall infrastructure "D+" grade.
As national policymakers consider approaches for revitalizing our infrastructure, Arkansas' robust industrial manufacturing sector stands to play a critical role in producing the necessary materials to build and improve crumbling networks. Industrial parks like the El Dorado Industrial Park and the Highland Industrial Park make Arkansas a powerhouse in the nation's infrastructure machine.
Despite this, Arkansas' own infrastructure also needs significant upgrades, with many of our roads and bridges requiring modernization.
The state Legislature's recent passage of the Partnership for Public Facilities and Infrastructure Act, which provides a framework for the formation of public-private partnerships, was a much-needed boost for this infrastructure growth. These partnerships will help expedite the timely and cost-efficient development of private projects for public infrastructure and government facilities.
Enabling the private sector to play a greater role in public infrastructure projects will help keep Arkansas' infrastructure development on track. And it also is in line with successful private investment approaches toward developing a strong and modern infrastructure, including the freight rail industry, which has invested significantly in recent decades to build the world's safest and most efficient transportation system.
Smart federal policies enacted in the 1980s that largely deregulated the freight rail industry allowed railroads to take more control over their operations and generate new revenue. Since then, railroads have invested more than $635 billion in their own rail networks, supporting their operations and improving infrastructure to the benefit of the public.
We are seeing these investments improve infrastructure here in Arkansas. For instance, Union Pacific earlier this year committed to investing $135 million in the state's rail network, benefiting Arkansas' overall transportation infrastructure without draining any taxpayer funds.
Investments like these improve efficiency and safety, enabling goods to get to their destinations quickly.
This is particularly vital for the state's overall economy, where 177.5 million tons of goods were moved by rail in 2014 alone. In Arkansas' Golden Triangle, comprised of Magnolia, Camden and El Dorado, freight trains move everything from manufactured products to wood to oil and gas, serving the aerospace defense systems throughout the region as well as the United States Navy. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Golden Triangle is also the nickname of Arkansas' Economic Development Commission.
Freight rail is just one concrete example of how private-public partnerships on infrastructure can ultimately benefit the public while reducing the burden on taxpayers. Arkansas policymakers should continue identify more opportunities to encourage of public and private cooperation to forge solutions for some of the state's biggest challenges.
Frank Hash is the mayor of El Dorado.
Editorial on 11/25/2017