Feds react to Minnesota tragedy

| 8/3/2007

Federal officials have called for more funding for infrastructure and more inspections of the nation’s bridges in the aftermath of the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, introduced a bill Thursday, Aug. 2, to provide the state up to $250 million for the reconstruction of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis.

The bill, HR3311, waives a federal cap of $100 million in emergency funds for such purposes. The bill was awaiting Senate approval on Friday, Aug. 3.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters called for the immediate state inspections of steel deck truss bridges similar to the I-35W bridge that collapsed. The bridge type is not that common. Only 756 steel deck truss bridges exist in the U.S., according to Federal Highway Administration figures.

The Federal Highway Administration issued guidance to states to follow to conduct the inspections, Peters stated in a press release.

Sens. Chris Dodd, D-CT, and Chuck Hagel, R-NE, introduced a bill earlier this week – the day of, but prior to, the bridge collapse – to establish a financing mechanism for roads, bridges and infrastructure, stating that the average age of bridges in the U.S. is 40 years.

Dodd and Hagel say they want investments from the private sector to accompany federal funds for building and maintenance of infrastructure. They called the bill the National Infrastructure Bank Act of 2007.

“The legislation we are introducing establishes a new system through which the federal government can finance infrastructure projects by leveraging private and public capital to fund large projects that are vital to our country,” Hagel stated in a joint press release.

The bank, if the bill receives approval and a presidential signature, would provide up to $75 million per project of “regional or national significance.”

Dodd and Hagel also called for a $151-billion overhaul of the nation’s drinking water systems using their infrastructure financing mechanism.

– By David Tanner, staff writer