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Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Madam President, I rise today to speak on the 5-year anniversary of the horrific collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, and to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on that tragic summer day.

As I said the day after the bridge collapse, ``A bridge just should not fall down in the middle of America.'' Not a bridge that is a few blocks from my house. Not an eight-lane highway. Not a bridge that I drive over every day with my husband and my daughter. But that is what happened that sunny summer day in Minneapolis, MN.

I can't even begin to count how many times I have thought about that bridge, and everyone in our State actually remembers where they were the day it collapsed. It was one of the most heavily traveled bridges in our State, and in all that day 13 people lost their lives and scores were injured. So many more could have been killed if not for the first responders, if not for the volunteers, who instead of running away from the disaster, when they had no idea what actually happened, ran toward it and rescued their fellow citizens.

Everyone was shocked and horrified, but on that evening and in the days that followed, the whole world watched as our State came together, as they did in the minutes and hours after the collapse. I was proud to be a Minnesotan.

The emergency response to the bridge collapse demonstrated an impressive level of preparedness and coordination that should be a model for the Nation. We saw true heroes in the face of unimaginable circumstances. We saw an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter named Shannon Hanson, who grabbed her lifejacket and was among the first at the scene. Tethered to a yellow life rope in the midst of broken concrete and tangled rebar, she swam from car to car searching for survivors up and down in that river.

We saw that schoolbus perched precariously on the falling bridge deck. I called it the miracle bus. Inside there were dozens of kids from a very poor neighborhood, who had been on a swimming field trip. Their bus was crossing the bridge when it dropped. Thanks to the quick action of responsible adults and the children themselves, they all survived, they all got off that bus.

Although you can never feel good about a tragedy like this one, I certainly felt good about our police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and all the medical personnel who literally saved dozens and dozens of lives.

On this, the 5-year anniversary of the bridge collapse, we should again honor those heroes and the countless lives they saved.

For a minute, I want to tell you a few examples. A woman named Pamela Louwagie, who writes for the Star Tribune, gathered some of their stories this weekend. Some of these people I know. Lindsey Patterson Walls was in a Volkswagen that went over the bridge; she kicked out the doors and windows and was able to get out and survive. She is putting the collapse to work in her career. She is a youth worker who counsels children and teens and she discovered that her trauma, as hard as it was, wasn't so different than that of her clients. She felt insecure in the world, wondering whether another bridge would collapse under her, and she realized that the homeless teens she counsels felt insecure, wondering where they would sleep at night. It is a lesson she takes with her every day in her job.

Betsy Sathers is someone I have come to know. Her husband was 29 years old when he died in that bridge collapse. They had just gotten married and they planned on having a family. She decided to adopt children from Haiti. In the aftermath of that earthquake, she already knew the names of these children she was going to adopt. She would not let those kids just be left in that rubble. She contacted our office. We worked with her and brought Alyse and Ross back from Haiti, and she is their mother. I saw them this weekend with their big smiles and their mom. That is an inspirational story.

The Coulter family was in their minivan--the kids, the mom, the dad. It was clear at the beginning that they were severely injured and the mom, Paula, they didn't think would survive. Also, after they learned that maybe she was going to make it--she had devastating injuries to her brain and her back--one time during one of the surgeries, they had to jolt her heart back to life. They had suggested that her family start looking for nursing home care. But she didn't give up--Paula and her family didn't give up. After 2 years, with the help of some great therapists, she could walk and move again and go back to her counseling job part time, and two summers ago she and her trainer ran a 5K race. That is inspirational.

Then there is the bridge itself. After it collapsed, it was so clear to us that we had to rebuild it and we had to rebuild it right away. In just 3 days, Senator Coleman and I worked together in the Senate to secure $250 million in emergency bridge reconstruction funding. Representative Jim Oberstar led the way in the House. Approval of the funding came with remarkable speed in this Chamber. It was bipartisan and we were able to get the funding. From the moment that bridge started construction to the end, it took less than a year to rebuild a bridge that is now a 10-lane highway.

Today, the new I-35W bridge is a symbol of pride and the resilience of a community. This weekend, when I was at the Twin Cities heroes parade with our veterans, the organizer looked at me proudly and said: Tonight they are lighting up the 35W bridge red, white, and blue. So it literally has become a symbol of hope in our State.

The new bridge is a hundred-year bridge with more lanes than before. It is also safer. The bridge includes state-of-the-art anti-icing technology, as well as shoulders, which the old bridge didn't have.

Of course, bridge safety was on the minds of all Americans, especially those of us in Minnesota, following the bridge collapse. Immediately afterward, the Minnesota Department of Transportation inspected all 25 bridges in Minnesota with a similar design as the I-35W bridge. This inspection led to the closing of the Highway 23 bridge in St. Cloud, where bulging of gusset plates was found. I remember seeing it. It accelerated its planned replacement of that bridge, which opened in 2009.

But the reforms were not all structural. Since then, the department of transportation in our State has improved the way the inspections and maintenance functions of the department handle critical information and necessary repairs.

Just as in Minnesota, bridge safety became a priority nationally as well. After the National Transportation Safety Board identified gusset plates as being heavily responsible for the collapse, a critical review of gusset plates was conducted on bridges across America, and there was new attention focused on deterioration of steel and weight added to bridges over the years through maintenance and resurfacing projects.

The national organization that develops highway and bridge standards, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, updated bridge manuals that are used by State and county bridge engineers across the Nation.

I will say that 5 years later we have still not made as much progress as I would have liked. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that over 25 percent of the Nation's 600,000 bridges are still either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave bridges in America a C grade in its 2009 Report Card for America's Infrastructure and a D for infrastructure overall.

We did take a positive step forward with the recent bipartisan transportation bill that will help State departments of transportation fix bridges and improve infrastructure.

For Minnesota, that bill means more than $700 million for Minnesota's roads, bridges, transit, congestion mitigation projects, and mobility improvements.

The bill gives greater flexibility to State departments of transportation to direct Federal resources to address unique needs in each State. It also establishes benchmarks and national policy goals, including strengthening our Nation's bridges, and links those to Federal funds. It reduces project delivery time and accelerates processes that will reduce in half the amount of time to get projects under way.

However, we all know more needs to be done. While other countries are moving full steam ahead with infrastructure investments, we seem to be simply treading water, and in an increasingly competitive global economy standing still is falling behind.

China and India are spending, respectively, 9 and 5 percent of their GDP on infrastructure. We need to keep up. We need to build our infrastructure. That is why I authored the Rebuild America Jobs Act last fall, which would have invested in our Nation's infrastructure. It would have also created a national infrastructure bank--something the occupant of the chair is familiar with--to help facilitate public-private partnerships, so that projects could be built that would otherwise be too expensive for a city, a county, or even a State to accomplish on its own. We included a provision to set aside a certain amount of funding for road projects. Unfortunately, while we got a majority of the Senate voting to advance this bill, we were unable to break the filibuster.

So 5 years to the day after the I-35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River, we know we have much to do to ensure our 21st century economy has the 21st century infrastructure we need. I know I am committed to move forward and work in a bipartisan way to address our Nation's critical bridge and infrastructure needs and prevent another tragedy like the collapse of the I-35W bridge.

They didn't distinguish on that bridge on that day 5 years ago who was a Democrat or Republican. Certainly those first responders--the cops and firefighters--didn't ask what political party somebody belonged to. They simply did their job. That is what we need to do in the Senate.

I yield the floor.


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