Driven by the recent collapse of the I-5 Bridge in Washington State, U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) and Congressional Transportation leaders today introduced legislation that significantly increases Federal investment in the Nation's bridge infrastructure. The Strengthen and Fortify Existing Bridges (SAFE Bridges) Act, provides $5.5 billion to start to reduce the backlog of the more than 150,000 structural deficient and functionally obsolete bridges across the country.
"The nightmarish scene we witnessed in Washington State last month with the collapse of the I-5 Bridge was yet another dramatic wakeup call on the state of American infrastructure," said Rahall, top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "Congress simply cannot keep hitting the snooze button when it comes to needed investment in our Nation's bridges or think that these aging structures can be rehabilitated with rhetoric. Providing the means for safe and reliable transportation is one of the core functions of our government and this legislation helps fulfill that responsibility."
"The bridge collapse in Washington State is a dramatic reminder that we need to make significant investments in our nation's transportation system just to bring our current system up to a state of good repair," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), top Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee. "This isn't a partisan issue. Structurally deficient and obsolete bridges exist in red and blue districts all across this country. This problem won't fix itself. Ranking Member Rahall's bill will make needed federal investments so we can begin to address our most critical needs."
"The collapse of the I-5 Bridge should be an urgent call to action for this Congress," said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA). A member of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Larsen's district includes the northern portion of the I-5 Bridge that collapsed. "We need to maintain our bridges until they are old, and then we need to replace them. We can't keep waiting until they crumble into the water below. It's time to put our money where our safety is."
The SAFE Bridges Act, H.R. 2428, provides targeted funding for States to begin addressing the $121.2 billion backlog of deficient highway bridges identified in U.S. DOT's most recent Conditions and Performance Report. Specifically, the bill authorizes $2.75 billion in both fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2014 for states to rehabilitate and replace their structurally deficient, functionally obsolete, and fracture-critical bridges.
Under the legislation, the Department of Transportation would distribute funds among the States by a needs-based formula based on each State's share of deficient bridges. The funds provided under the SAFE Bridges Act are in addition to the regular Federal-aid highway program funds a State receives, and are not transferable to any other program or activity.
Following the collapse of the I-35 Bridge in 2007 the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure developed legislation mandating more rigorous inspection standards and new reporting requirements for States on the condition of their bridges. Many of these heightened safety measures were included in the new surface transportation law approved by Congress last year. However, Federal funding for bridge replacement and repair has remained far below the level required to significantly reduce the backlog of aging bridges across the country.
"I know firsthand the tragic consequences that can occur when older bridges are continuously saddled with loads they were never built to accommodate," said Rahall. "The collapse of the Silver Bridge in my home state of West Virginia claimed the lives of 46 people, 46 years ago. While we absolutely need to identify a more sustainable funding source to address the staggering backlog of aging bridges over the long term, we can't continue to put at risk the safety of the traveling public in the interim."
Currently, there are 66,749 structurally deficient and 84,748 functionally obsolete U.S. bridges according to the Department of Transportation. The I-5 Bridge, which collapsed in Northwestern Washington State, was rated as functionally obsolete and surpassed its 50 year expected lifespan in 2006. While many States have worked hard to reduce the backlog of deficient bridges, declining federal support for bridge infrastructure has significantly slowed their progress in recent years.
Last week, Rahall sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood urging the accelerated implementation of new bridge inspection standards and reporting requirements which Congress approved in the new surface transportation law. Rahall has also requested a detailed assessment of how States and the Federal Highway Administration have responded to warnings about the safety of the nation's bridges from the Department of Transportation Inspector General.