Federal bill urges bridge inspections, repair

| 7/17/2008

A bill scheduled for debate next week in the U.S. House of Representatives would set in motion a new process for prioritizing the inspection, inventory and repair of structurally deficient and obsolete bridges on the National Highway System.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced HR3999 in October 2007 in response to the Aug. 1, 2007, collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis that killed 13 people including a trucker.

“The I-35 bridge had been rated as structurally deficient since 1990, and had undergone annual inspections by the Minnesota Department of Transportation since 1993,” Oberstar stated in a report to fellow lawmakers.

He said the bridge received a rating low enough for it to be eligible for replacement under the Federal Highway Bridge Program, but the bridge was neither closed nor replaced and the tragedy occurred.

Oberstar’s bill, also known as the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2007, emerged from the House Rules Committee on Tuesday, July 15, on its way to the House floor. The debate is next week according to House T&I Committee staff.

The Rules Committee has allowed a number of amendments to be considered during debate, including one by Oberstar to create a $5 million pilot program to install high-tech monitoring equipment on up to 15 bridges in five states.

Insiders say HR3999 has a lot of bipartisan support on the Hill heading into the debate.

“We understand that there will be potholes here and there, but it’s disconcerting to think that a bridge could collapse beneath us,” said Mike Joyce, senior government affairs representative for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“Without that infrastructure in place, our country suffers. We need to have bridges and highways that can support our commerce, our goods and services we provide.”

Federal Highway Administration statistics show there are more than 73,000 structurally deficient bridges nationwide. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that it would cost $65 billion to upgrade or replace them all.

Oberstar’s legislation targets bridges on the National Highway System, which has 6,177 structurally deficient bridges and 17,167 functionally obsolete bridges totaling 23,344 in need of repair, rehabilitation or replacement.

OOIDA is urging its members to contact their federal lawmakers to support HR3999. The Capitol switchboard number is 202-224-3121. Give the Capitol operator your ZIP code to be connected to your representative and senators’ offices.

Click here to read a summary of HR3999 as reported to the House.

– By David Tanner, staff writer