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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. I thank my good friend from Florida (Mr. Lincoln Diaz-Balart) for yielding me the time.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of the emergency route priority amendment, as mentioned by Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and this is the Mario Diaz-Balart amendment, which is provided for in today's rule for the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act.
I have the unique pleasure, Mr. Speaker, of representing over 265 miles of pristine Florida coastline from Miami Beach all the way south to Key West. But our paradise is complicated by the extreme vulnerability to hurricanes, especially in the Florida Keys.
Over 74,000 Keys residents are dependent on a single evacuation route, the Overseas Highway, a part of U.S. Highway 1, which runs many miles connecting a series of islands from Key Largo to Key West. A key, no pun intended, bottleneck in the evacuation route is the Long Key Bridge, which is the second longest bridge, next to the Seven Mile Bridge, in this stretch of highway. This is a 2 1/2 -mile-long bridge, and it marks the beginning of the approach to the first heavily populated Key, Key Largo; so almost all of the Florida Keys residents will be coming over this bridge if an evacuation is ordered. The Florida Department of Transportation has recently alerted my office to the fact that the Long Key Bridge is only rated as ``satisfactory'' in its structure. This means that it could be severely damaged in a category 3 hurricane.
As Mr. Diaz-Balart has pointed out in his remarks, the bridge was built in 1981, and it allows most of the population of the Florida Keys to evacuate to our mainland during hurricanes. If it were damaged in a storm, over 50,000 people could be trapped and, indeed, under water because most of the Keys are below sea level. Severe damage to the bridge would also likely cut off the water supply to most of the Florida Keys because it runs along the Overseas Highway.
Unfortunately, there are no definitive plans to fund the bridge, although there is a tentative date of the year 2012. This is because the needed improvements would cost $60 million. This includes replacing the present V-pier design to a more conventional configuration which would provide stronger structural integrity. It would also maintain the existing piers and top segments which are in good condition.
That is why the Mario Diaz-Balart emergency route amendment is so important to my congressional district. It's very simple, but it's a much-needed change to this legislation. It will emphasize the importance of public safety in prioritizing new highway bridge funding as well as including emergency evacuation routes as a reason to give a specific bridge risk-based priority for rehab or replacements.
Transportation infrastructure, especially bridges, play an important, a vital role during emergency situations, including our many natural disasters. In many coastal areas not only in the Florida Keys but, in fact, throughout the entire State of Florida and other hurricane-prone States, bridges provide the only mainland access for millions of residents and visitors alike. The 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons emphasized the need for safe emergency evacuation routes when millions of Floridians faced mandatory evacuations, including the residents of the Florida Keys and other barrier islands.
This amendment simply emphasizes the importance of public safety as well as ensures that Americans have access to safe evacuation routes during times of impending disasters, and I hope that our colleagues give it their serious consideration.
I thank the gentleman, my colleague from Florida, for the time.
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