Klobuchar Says I35W Bridge Collapse Is 'Wake-Up Call' to Fix Highway Bridge Program
Klobuchar calls for action on Klobuchar-Durbin-Oberstar Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act
At a hearing today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar said that last year's sudden, deadly collapse of the I35W bridge should be a "wake-up call" for a greater national commitment to bridge safety and repair. Klobuchar spoke at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing focused on Senator Klobuchar's legislation, the Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act, which would help repair or replace many of the 1,579 structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota, as well as thousands of bridges in disrepair throughout the United States. She also addressed the just-released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report which found major flaws in the Highway Bridge Program.
Klobuchar, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, along with Congressman James Oberstar and Senator Norm Coleman, spoke at the hearing first as a witness before taking her seat on the Committee.
"Americans shouldn't have to worry about the safety of the bridges and roads they use every day," said Klobuchar. "We're not going to effectively fix the nation's bridges unless we also fix the problems with the Highway Bridge Program. When the average age of a bridge in this country is 43 years and 25 percent of all American bridges are in need of serious repair or replacement, it's time to act.
The new GAO report found that the Highway Bridge Program has not succeeded in reducing the nation's number of deficient bridges. In particular, the report said the program lacked focus and, as a result, the $4 billion provided to states last year was not necessarily used for their intended purpose.
In the last five years, the state of Minnesota has spent almost half of its Highway Bridge Program funding on other priorities.
Experts at the hearing said that funds intended to repair deteriorating bridges have been used for non-bridge projects resulting in failed attempts by the Highway Bridge Program to reduce the number of troubled bridges. In order to fix the program, Klobuchar called on her Senate colleagues to pass a bill she introduced with Senator Durbin (D-IL), the Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act, to require states to certify they do not have any structurally deficient bridges on the federal interstate system before they can shift federal bridge funds to other programs.
The legislation is a companion bill to Congressman Jim Oberstar's bill that passed the House of Representatives in late July by a wide bipartisan margin by vote of 367 to 55.
"Bridges in America should not fall down. The tragic collapse of the I-35W bridge underscored the need for a renewed commitment to infrastructure funding locally and nationally," said Klobuchar. "While we have come together to rebuild this vital lifeline, our work to re-invest in our nation's infrastructure remains unfinished. Infrastructure is the lifeblood of our economy - it creates new jobs and keeps businesses and residents moving. This bill is a critical step to strengthen our commitment to infrastructure investment and require thorough inspections, to ensure we have the safe, reliable infrastructure our country deserves."
Nationally, the bill authorizes an additional $1 billion in funding for states to begin addressing the problem of structurally deficient bridges. Minnesota's share of that funding is $7.3 million in fiscal year 2009. Once the bill clears the committee, it will move to the Senate floor for consideration.