(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
During evening rush hour 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.
It should not take a tragedy like the one in Minneapolis to remind us that the safety of our bridges, highways, and other infrastructure is a matter of life and death.
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.
This means we need to make significant investments in our bridges just to maintain them at safe functioning levels, followed by even larger investments over the next 20 to 30 years to completely replace aging bridges.
In August, I held a field briefing in Sacramento to discuss the condition of California’s bridges with my state officials. California voters recently approved $20 billion in transportation infrastructure funding. But, the citizens of California cannot fix this problem by themselves. It is clear to me that we must do more to provide a safe transportation system that meets our economic needs.
Following the bridge collapse in Minnesota, I am sure a lot of my colleagues here today have asked officials in their own states for information on the condition of bridges.
There are real needs for repair and replacement of aging bridges on our nation’s highways. Of approximately 600,000 bridges nationwide, about 26% are considered deficient.
Approximately 72,000 bridges are considered structurally deficient and 81,000 are considered functionally obsolete. Of those bridges that are classified as structurally deficient, approximately 6,000 are on the National Highway System.
Since its creation, the Highway Bridge Program has provided approximately $77.6 billion for bridge repair and replacement. The most recent highway authorization bill, SAFETEA-LU, included a total of $21.6 billion for the Highway Bridge Program, with an average of $4.3 billion provided per year.
Unfortunately, this amount of funding is nowhere near what is necessary to keep our bridges in good repair.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2006 Conditions and Performance Report, the average annual cost to maintain our nation’s bridges at their current level over the next 20 years would be $8.7 billion. 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.
The U.S. Department of Transportation "estimates that $65.2 billion could be invested immediately in a cost-beneficial fashion to replace or otherwise address current existing bridge deficiencies."
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.
What happened in Minnesota is a warning for our states, for Congress, and for the Administration.
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 stop skirting the surface and make a serious investment in our transportation infrastructure.
So, I want to thank you all for being here, and I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.