Bridge funding critical for aging system, officials say

| 9/11/2008

It’s a critical time for bridge funding as systems age and transportation funding continues to be tight.

Lawmakers have charted a course to prioritize bridge repairs and avoid such catastrophes as the Minneapolis bridge collapse in August 2007.

One stop on that course occurred Wednesday, Sept. 10, in the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, spoke to the committee about the bridge collapse in his home state and about a bill, HR3999, which he introduced to prioritize repairs on bridges deemed to have critical flaws.

“Of the 599,766 bridges in the National Bridge Inventory, 25.4 percent of America’s bridges – more than one in four – are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” Oberstar stated in his testimony.

“We recognize that we cannot approach this problem with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Different states have different levels of need, and different bridges have varying requirements and weaknesses. These must be accounted for, but the current piecemeal, patchwork approach to bridge inspection and data collection raises a lot of questions about the overall safety of the nation’s bridge inventory.”

Oberstar’s bill calls for the Federal Highway Administration to create a better framework for states to work within. It also calls for an immediate $1 billion infusion into bridge repairs.

The House previously approved HR3999 in July by a vote of 357-55. Oberstar called on Senate leaders to pass their version of the bill, S3338, without hesitation.

Boxer and the Senate committee’s ranking Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, praised the bridge funding plan.

– By David Tanner, staff writer