Column: Bipartisan momentum on building up our infrastructure
By U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar
WASHINGTON — This month, major bipartisan legislation was signed into law that will give Minnesota’s waterways, ports, flood protection and economy a big boost. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) will deliver much-needed funding to water resource projects across Minnesota that will help strengthen our communities, our economy and our environment.
This law is not only a major victory for our state — it’s also a reminder of what’s possible when both parties put partisanship aside and focus on doing the right thing. My hope is that we can keep the momentum going and usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation to tackle another looming infrastructure challenge: our roads, bridges and rail.
Passing WRRDA was an important down payment on that effort. The legislation includes my provision to help prevent the spread of invasive carp by closing the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock, as well as a provision supported by Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Rick Nolan and myself that helps ensure dredging and maintenance at the Port of Duluth and addresses the dredging backlog on the Great Lakes. Working with senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven of North Dakota, the bill also advances the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project that will give the region the permanent flood protection it needs. And with the work of Rep. Collin Peterson, the bill also helps move forward flood protection for Roseau, which has endured devastating floods in years past.
These provisions are critical to our state’s water infrastructure, but our work is far from finished. From our roads to rail to bridges, we still face enormous challenges in building the 21st century infrastructure we need to export our goods and keep our transportation safe.
The cracks in our broken transportation system were tragically exposed on Aug. 1, 2007, when the I-35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring many more. As I said that day, a bridge should not just fall down in the middle of America.
And yet according to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2013 Report Card, the United States scores a “D plus” on the overall condition of our infrastructure. These deficiencies are expected to increase the cost of doing business by roughly $430 billion over the next decade, and they pose a threat to public safety. On Highway 14 in southern Minnesota alone, more than 125 people died in the last two decades.
That’s why we need to bring both parties together to build a truly 21st century transportation network.
We should start by shoring up the Highway Trust Fund, which finances infrastructure projects across the country. If Congress doesn’t act, the fund will go bankrupt in a matter of months, jeopardizing critical projects and construction jobs and creating paralyzing uncertainty for businesses and local governments in Minnesota. With our extremely short construction season coming off a long winter, this is particularly important to our state. Congress needs to ensure certainty and address the shortfall so that we don’t have to slam the breaks on important transportation projects.
The transportation bill we passed in 2012 provided about $700 million per year to Minnesota, which was more than we had gotten in past years. As Congress works on the next transportation bill, I’ll push to secure the highest level of funding for Minnesota and work to ensure communities have a say in how funding is spent.
I’d also like to bring back the simple idea (with reforms) that members of Congress have more of a say in how transportation money is spent in their states as opposed to the current system, where everything is delegated to the Administration and federal bureaucracy. I am also a cosponsor of the bipartisan BRIDGE Act which would establish an Infrastructure Financing Authority to leverage federal funds with private dollars to expand our overall infrastructure in our transportation networks and increase safety, improve mobility, and ease congestion.
We passed WRRDA because both parties put politics aside and focused on solutions. Now, we have a chance to bring that same bipartisan approach to the task of improving our infrastructure. That’s the right thing to do — for the safety of our families, the strength of our economy, and the future of our state and country.