(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
During rush hour just over a year ago on August 1st, the I-35 west bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, sending dozens of cars into the Mississippi River. This tragedy claimed the lives of 13 people. It has also served as an urgent wake up call that we cannot neglect our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet issued the results of its investigation into the Minnesota bridge collapse, but we do know that additional resources are needed to repair and replace aging bridges and highways across our nation.
It should not take a tragedy like the one in Minneapolis to remind us that the safety of our bridges, highways, and other infrastructure can be a matter of life and death.
And yet, today we are facing a crisis with the Highway Trust Fund that we use to repair our roads and bridges, as well as invest in new infrastructure. But this one we can prevent if my Republican colleagues agree to restore $8 billion to the highway trust fund and prevent cuts to highway spending nationwide.
The Highway Trust Fund’s balances have dropped quickly over the past couple of months. According to FHWA, revenues have dropped from $4.2 billion at the end of July to less than $1.4 billion at the beginning of September.
This drop is due to the fact that Americans are driving less and the funds generated by the gas tax have been much lower than previously anticipated.
This leaves us with a precarious situation where FHWA is now unable to fully reimburse states for critical highway construction projects that are currently underway in states across the nation.
FHWA is going to slow down the repayment of states if we can’t come up with funds to restore the shortfall.
That means thousands of jobs are lost and important transportation improvements are stalled or cancelled.
If we don’t fix the trust fund shortfall now, the highway account is expected to experience as much as a $3.1 billion shortfall in 2009, which would result in an approximately 30 percent reduction in funds.
According to the California Department of Transportation, if no action is taken to avert the shortfall California would experience a potential revenue reduction of $930 million.
This means the loss of 32,315 jobs in my state. And California is certainly not alone.
That is why I call upon my Republican colleagues to focus on the communities that will lose jobs and the families that will be hurt if my Republican colleagues do not relent and let us fix the highway trust fund.
Today our specific focus is the state of repair of our nation’s bridges.
Half of all bridges in this country were built before 1964, and the average age of a bridge in the National Bridge Inventory is 43 years old.
Of approximately 600,000 bridges nationwide, about 26% are considered deficient.
This means we need to make significant investments just to maintain our bridges at safe functioning levels, followed by even larger investments over the next 20 to 30 years to completely replace aging bridges.
Since its creation, the Highway Bridge Program has provided approximately $77.6 billion for bridge repair and replacement. And the most recent highway authorization bill, SAFETEA-LU, included a total of $21.6 billion in Federal funding for the Highway Bridge Program, with an average of $4.3 billion in Federal funding provided per year.
Unfortunately, this amount of funding is not enough to maintain our bridges in a state of good repair.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2006 Conditions and Performance Report, the average annual cost to eliminate the repair backlog and fix other problems that are expected to develop between now and 2024 would be $12.4 billion annually from all levels of government. Total capital spending on bridges by all units of government in 2004 (the latest available figures) was $10.5 billion.
Senator Klobuchar and Chairman Oberstar have worked together to address problems with our nation’s bridges by introducing legislation entitled, the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2008.
The House version of this legislation, H.R. 3999, was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 357 to 55 in the House of Representatives on July 24th.
This legislation makes changes to the requirements set forth in the Highway Bridge Program, while authorizing a one-time additional $1 billion for bridge repair and replacement.
One key provision in this legislation is a requirement for the Department of Transportation to develop a national risk-based priority system for the repair, rehabilitation or replacement of each structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridge.
This Committee is releasing a GAO report today on the Highway Bridge Program entitled, “Clearer Goals and Performance Measures Needed for a More Focused and Sustainable Program.”
In this report, GAO found that the current Highway Bridge Program doesn’t have clearly defined goals that encourage states to reduce their overall number of deficient bridges.
By developing national risk-based criteria and requiring each state to develop their own performance plans based on the risk-based priority system, the Federal government should be able to focus investment on those bridges that are most in need of repair and replacement.
There are states like California who have specific needs like seismic retrofitting which should be considered a priority in a risk based system.
We need to invest more in our nation’s bridges. But we also need to insure that Federal funds dedicated to bridge repair and replacement are well spent and used as intended.
We have great challenges before us. But at the end of the day it’s a matter of setting priorities.
If we are going to keep our people safe and our economy strong and healthy, we need to make a serious investment in our transportation infrastructure.
I want to thank each of you for being here, and I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.
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