Thank you Madame Chairman. I am pleased that you have called this hearing to examine the state of our nation’s bridge infrastructure. As I’m sure you remember, I suggested back in February that we hold a hearing on the Emergency Relief Program because of the funding and how the eligibility works
The catastrophic failure of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota was a tragedy for the families of the 13 victims as well as the people of Minnesota, and I hope a wake-up call for all of us. Our infrastructure is crumbling and we cannot afford to ignore it. We have been enjoying investments made 50 years ago and have not been giving enough attention to replacement, or even adequate maintenance, of the very infrastructure that has fueled unprecedented economic prosperity. As I have stated many times, the primary responsibility of government is to provide for the defense of the country and infrastructure. We have done an inadequate job maintaining and expanding our infrastructure.
I do have one concern that I would like to put on the table. Following the tragedy in Minnesota, many have rushed to call for dramatic increases in the amount of money we spend on bridges. While I appreciate that may be a natural response, I would suggest that as the committee of jurisdiction on this issue, we need to look at the entire picture before we make decisions on how to spend additional scarce resources. Please do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that we do not need to devote more resources to bridges. In fact my home state leads the nation in structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges. If anyone understands the need for increased attention on bridges, I do. But I believe when we examine the state of our infrastructure in its entirety, we will find that it is not just bridges but everything that needs attention. The investment needs for aging bridges are staggering, but we cannot let this overshadow the overwhelming needs on all aspects our nation’s highways.
Additionally, I am concerned about the potential impact on repairing our aging infrastructure if the Chairman’s proposals on climate change were to become law. The production of cement produces a lot of CO2 emissions. A tight Cap and Trade program, such as the Boxer/Sanders Bill, will force most of our American cement production to go overseas, where their environmental procedures are not as good as ours. This will result not only in higher CO2 emissions world-wide, but also higher costs for cement here in the US and supply delays. This will mean our highway dollars will be stretched even thinner.
SAFETEA provided $22 billion for the Highway Bridge program, and added the ability for states to use bridge funding on preventative maintenance. As we consider higher funding for bridges, we cannot forget that is only part of the solution. We also need to examine further programmatic changes that will improve our nation’s bridges and ensure that we get the most for our limited dollars.
So, Madame Chairman, I hope this will be just one of many oversight hearings in the next year on the state of infrastructure and what needs to be done to address it. Reauthorization of SAFETEA is coming up quickly and if we are going to be prepared to we must start today.
I want to welcome our witnesses today and thank them for taking time out of their schedules to share with us their thoughts. I am anxious to hear from the two Senators from Minnesota. Their insight, and perhaps frustrations, into how resources were pulled together to respond to the disaster will be most instructive to the committee. My own experience following bridge failure is that you are never too prepared and I know we can all benefit from what you learned.
It is always a pleasure to hear from Secretary Peters. I know from personal experience that you are a critical partner in a disaster. So, thank you for coming and I am looking forward to your testimony.
It is my hope that from Secretary Peters and the Inspector General, Calvin Scovel, we will learn exactly what the classifications of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete does and does not mean and how the current program is designed to encourage states to address bridge maintenance and replacement.
Finally, we will be hearing the state perspective from the Director of the Michigan DOT, Kirk Steudle and the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of building and maintaining bridges from Mark Hermann on behalf of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Again, thank you to all of our witnesses and I look forward to hearing what you have to say.