House committee hears testimony about infrastructure needs

| 6/5/2008

Evoking images of the Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee opened a congressional hearing Thursday with strong statements about the importance of maintaining America’s highways and infrastructure.

“The collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis on Aug. 1 served as a reminder of the critical importance of our infrastructure. Though this tragedy directly impacted the residents of my home state of Minnesota, aging infrastructure is a problem not confined to one state,” said Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-MN, committee chairman.

“This collapse demonstrates the need to make a commitment to invest in the maintenance and major reconstruction our nation’s infrastructure. Many of the nation’s surface transportation facilities are being stretched to the limit of their design life and beyond.”

Oberstar’s comments came at the opening of a hearing on Thursday, June 5, that was called by the House of Representatives T&I Committee to examine how to maintain America’s highways and transit infrastructure. He said that in addition to the age of the country’s roads and bridges, the volume of traffic has exceeded projections, which has caused additional wear and tear on the infrastructure.

“As pavement structures reach 40 to 50 years of life, rehabilitation and resurfacing will no longer be sufficient – and major portions of the nation’s roadway network will require complete pavement and foundation reconstruction,” Oberstar said.

“In addition to their age, many segments of the roadway network handle much greater volume of traffic than originally projected, including a 52.4 percent increase in freight ton-miles by truck between 1990 and 2005.”

Safety was not the only concern expressed by members of the committee as the hearing was beginning on Thursday. In opening comments, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-OR, said that poorly maintained roads and bridges are costing American drivers money.

“The impact of our aging network has a direct effect on Americans’ everyday lives. According to a recent study by TRIP, 23 percent of the nation’s major metropolitan roads have pavements in poor condition, resulting in rough rides that cost the average urban motorist $413 annually in additional vehicle operating costs,” DeFazio said.

Witnesses scheduled to testify at Thursday’s hearing included officials from state departments of transportation, public transit agencies, and other public entities responsible for maintaining transportation infrastructure.

Both DeFazio and Oberstar said that information gathered in the hearing would be used during the consideration and drafting of the next federal legislation for highway funding. That legislation is due to be drafted next year.