Pioneer Editorial: A year later and action on bridgesIt seems so tragic that often it takes a serious accident, usually involving death, before the wheels of government begin to turn a little faster to enact public policy to prevent similar occurrences.
By: Bemidji Pioneer, Worthington Daily Globe
It seems so tragic that often it takes a serious accident, usually involving death, before the wheels of government begin to turn a little faster to enact public policy to prevent similar occurrences.
On Friday, several solemn events are slated to observe the one-year anniversary of the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, a tragedy that claimed 13 lives and injured hundreds more.
And, as we’ve noted, it took that disaster to spur Congress into action, culminating in work last week that saw a major measure pass the U.S. House to authorize an additional $1 billion more next year to rebuild structurally deficient bridges on the national highway system. It would also push states into determining their own plans to fix such bridges.
The Minneapolis bridge collapse — one of some 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the nation — was the linchpin to bring about change, finally designating funds to fix a deteriorating infrastructure.
But it’s not enough. The bill’s author, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, initially floated a 5-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike to fund $25 billion over three years for bridge repairs, but had to drop it as politically impossible to pass.
Minnesota heeded the omen also, approving a $6.6 billion transportation funding package over 10 years that involves a gas tax hike over the veto of Gov. Tim Pawlenty which will provide much needed dollars for both bad roads and poor bridges.
Still, the Oberstar bill pushes states to be accountable for bridge repairs. A recent study by the House Transportation Committee found that many states have diverted federal Highway Bridge Program funding to purposes other than maintaining, repairing and replacing bridges. In the last five years, Minnesota spent almost half of its Highway Bridge Program funding on other priorities. “My legislation sends a clear message to the states: fix your most critical bridge issues first; certify you've done that. Then you can transfer those remaining dollars elsewhere. I think we want accountability from the states," said Oberstar.
U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., and Dick Durban, D-Ill., wasted no time on Friday introducing the measure in the Senate, a measure which is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.
“While we have come together to rebuild this vital lifeline, our work to re-invest in our nation’s infrastructure remains unfinished. Infrastructure is the lifeblood of our economy — it creates new jobs and keeps businesses and residents moving. This bill is a critical step to strengthen our commitment to infrastructure investment and require thorough inspections, to ensure we have the safe, reliable infrastructure our country deserves.”
Hopefully, the measure will soon become law so that we can avoid any future tragedies of fallen bridges.