I-5 bridge collapse fuels $5.5 billion funding bill

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Thursday, June 20, 2013

It didn’t take long for members of Congress to introduce bridge funding legislation in the wake of the Interstate 5 bridge collapse last month north of Seattle.

Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, filed HR2428 on Wednesday, June 19, dubbing it the Strengthen and Fortify Existing Bridges Act, or SAFE Bridges Act.

The bill, which picked up 24 cosponsors on its first day, calls for $5.5 billion in new funding to fix deficient bridges. It was immediately referred to the T&I Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

“Last month, we received a dramatic wakeup call on the state of American infrastructure with the sudden collapse of the I-5 Bridge in Washington state that sent cars tumbling 30 feet into an icy river below,” Rahall stated on his website.

“The bridge that gave way was just one of thousands across the country that have exceeded their life expectancy and are in need of replacement. The legislation I am introducing today would give states the resources they need to start to reduce this unacceptably high backlog of aging bridges that pose a threat to public safety and our economic competitiveness,” Rahall stated.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues its investigation into the exact cause of the bridge collapse. According to news accounts and a preliminary report by the NTSB, a permitted over-height load going across the bridge struck overhead supports seconds before a 160-foot section collapsed into the Skagit River.

Fortunately, no one died in the collapse but three people had to be rescued. The trucker hauling the over-dimensional load stopped immediately and cooperated with authorities. According to the NTSB preliminary report, the trucker, William Scott of Alberta, Canada, told investigators he was being “crowded” over to the right by another semi that was trying to pass him on the bridge.

The collapse was the subject of a hearing last week by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, which is chaired by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The gist of that hearing was that more needs to be done to make sure aging U.S. infrastructure gets the proper amount of attention and funding.

The 60-year-old Skagit River bridge was functionally obsolete but was also listed as fracture critical, meaning it was one event (such as a heavy vehicle strike or an earthquake) away from a possible collapse.

Authors of a recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that the U.S. had fewer bridges listed as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete in 2012 than it did in 2002, but there are still 151,497 of them meeting at least one of those designations.

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