House hearing focuses on bridge fixes

| 9/5/2007

Federal lawmakers and transportation officials demanded fixes to the nation’s aging bridges during a hearing Wednesday, Sept. 5, of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-MN, opened the hearing by promoting his proposal called the National Highway System Bridge Reconstruction Initiative, brought forth in response to the collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge on Aug. 1.

Oberstar wants the federal government to provide funding to states to repair and replace structurally deficient bridges in the National Highway System of interstates and strategic highways.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Federal Highway Administrator J. Richard Capka, testified at the hearing.

They said at least $65 billion would be needed to repair or replace existing bridge deficiencies. Some House committee members believe the number would be much higher.

According to the DOT, there are 594,101 bridges in the United States, of which approximately 26.2 percent are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

The DOT defines deficient as in need of repair, reconstruction or replacement. Officials said that funding for such a program could be a contentious issue.

“Are we to have a ‘bake sale for bridges’ to fund this bridge investment backlog?” Oberstar stated in opening remarks.

He challenged Peters to consider a trust fund for bridges similar to the Highway Trust Fund.

Oberstar also urged Peters to join him in opposing congressional earmarks of the dedicated funding for anything but the purpose at hand.

Land Line and “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio will report more from the hearing in coming days.

– By David Tanner, staff writer