FORT SMITH — U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Jim Inhofe told western Arkansas officials that building transportation infrastructure is a constitutional obligation.

FORT SMITH — U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Jim Inhofe told western Arkansas officials that building transportation infrastructure is a constitutional obligation.

The senators met with the Western Arkansas Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority, which on Tuesday approved matching funds of $25,000 for a U.S. Corps of Engineers small harbor feasibility study in the Fort Smith area.

Momentum for a long-running push to build a "slackwater" harbor comes a day after waterways chiefs for Arkansas and Oklahoma met in Fort Smith with 23 mayors from North Little Rock to Tulsa to discuss $100 million in backlogged maintenance issues along the Arkansas River’s locks and dams, and the need to fund another study for a permanent fix to the flood-prone juncture of the Arkansas, White and Mississippi rivers.

Although creation of a 12-foot channel through the entire McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System remains a long-term goal for the local transportation authority and the Arkansas Waterways Commission, increasing traffic on the current 9-foot channel and keeping the system reliable is a primary goal.

In a roundtable discussion, Inhofe, R-Okla., and Boozman, R-Ark., said building transportation infrastructure is a constitutional obligation equal to military guardianship of the nation.

"One thing we’re supposed to be doing out there is building roads," Inhofe said. "Read the Constitution sometime when you’re out of things to read. It says what we’re supposed to be doing is two things: Defending America and building infrastructure."

In response to a question from Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack regarding the likelihood of getting congressional support to fund Corps of Engineers maintenance issues, Inhofe tied the Obama administration’s funding of renewable energy products and a "war on fossil fuels" to the lack of funding for the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

"In the first six years of this administration, he (President Obama) was able to spend $120 billion on global warming," Inhofe said. "That’s where all the money is going, to this liberal agenda, and they don’t care anything about military or roads and highways … they’re doing everything they can to destroy coal, oil and gas."

Boozman said wording previously excluded in laws has been placed into a Water Resources Reform & Development Act that would allow private business participation. Section 1024 of the bill authorizes the government "to accept material and services provided by a non-federal interest, including public, nonprofit, or private entities, to repair, restore, or replace a water resources development project that has been damaged or destroyed during an emergency event."

Boozman also pointed to a "shortfall of government funding right now, $17 trillion debt and at least a $500 million deficit each year."

"The other problem is that the infrastructure on the rivers is just wearing out," Boozman said. "There are some major repairs need to be done."

Both Boozman and Inhofe, senior members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, voted in favor of H.R. 5021, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014, which will allow for highway and transportation projects to continue through May 31, 2015, by providing nearly $11 billion in off-set highway funds.

"One thing we all agree on is transportation, because that’s what we are supposed to be doing," Inhofe said in reference to working with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on the Highway Reauthorization Bill. "This is a nationwide thing that we’re going to have to get back on the road."

Inhofe said a better way of funding the Highway Trust Fund would have been taking a percentage of the gasoline price. Since the federal gas tax was last increased to 18.4 cents per gallon in 1993, inflation has eroded its value by 40 percent, according to Ben Husch of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"If we’d been smart back when we had the first Highway Trust Fund, if we had had that as a percentage instead of a centage, we wouldn’t be having the problems we are today," Inhofe said.

Boozman said he and Inhofe would like to seek a five-year bill to fund highway projects instead of the two-year bill to better plan projects like Interstate 49 and a possible bridge across the Arkansas River at Alma for job creation and economic development.

"Coming up between now and May, you’ll see a new funding mechanism that is going to change how we are funding our roads and highways," Inhofe said. "This is not an announcement on my part, because I still maintain opposition to any new tax increases, however it’s more of a user fee than a tax increase."

The Highway Trust Fund is insolvent, Boozman pointed out, because cars get better gas mileage, and "people just aren’t driving as much as they used to."

"We’re going to have to figure out how we can get a revenue stream to support that, and there’ll be a lot of controversy about that," Boozman said.