Click here or the image above to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled, “The Response to the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse on March 26, 2024.”

Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as delivered.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for calling this hearing today to examine the response to the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, and the lessons learned, and the efforts to rebuild the new bridge.

“I want to thank my colleagues for being here. I know when something like this occurs in your state it is very deeply felt, and I'm sure we'll hear that through your statements and certainly private conversations that we've had as well.

“I will say Maryland is also a neighbor of West Virginia, but we're kind of on the western side there.

“Before I proceed with my opening remarks, I do want to acknowledge the passing of our former chairman, Jim Inhofe, this week and express my sincere condolences to his family. He sat in this chair and I sat very close to him. Senator Inhofe was a true public servant, workhorse for the people of Oklahoma, the embodiment of kindness and leadership for all who knew him.

“He was also, as we know, those of us who have been to the prayer breakfasts on Wednesday mornings, a very spiritual man at the same time and a family man.

“As chairman of the committee, he developed a strong tradition of tackling the nation’s the nation's infrastructure in a bipartisan and thoughtful manner, a tradition that sent many bills to the president's desk for signature. So I am pleased this committee has continued his tradition.

“Turning to the topic of today's hearing. I want to say how impressed I was, and I've said this publicly just about every time I've talked about the bridge, and the chairman talked about this, at the rapid and professional response to the Key Bridge collapse from everybody, from federal, state, and local agencies. I also want to extend my condolences to the families of the six folks who unfortunately lost their lives that day.

“We are grateful that the quick action to close the bridge to traffic prevented further loss of life, and that the response and recovery efforts began almost immediately thereafter. 

“The salvage effort to remove the debris from the collapsed bridge and refloat the Dali was a massive undertaking and amazingly quick. 

“In total, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in coordination with the U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving, cleared more than 50 thousand tons of debris from the river.

“The Corps’ effective management of these operations allowed for the establishment of limited capacity channels, while a team of experts worked to clear the river and restore a critical component of our supply chain, which West Virginia coal was on the other side, uses the port quite frequently for exports.

“On June 10, the Corps announced the restoration of the federal channel to its original dimensions of 700 feet wide by 50 feet deep for commercial navigation, which enabled operations to resume at the Port of Baltimore. 

“General Spellmon, thank you for your leadership on this matter.

“I understand…that your time as the Chief of Engineers for the Corps is coming to an end here shortly.

“So, I also want to express my sincere gratitude for your service to our country and your dedication to addressing our nation’s infrastructure challenges.

“On the highway side, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) disbursed $60 million in ‘Quick Release’ funding from the Emergency Relief (ER) Program within two days of the collapse, so that the Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) would have federal resources to help with the agency’s recovery efforts. 

“Federal Highways has also been lending its broad technical expertise to Maryland DOT to help get the project for the new bridge underway.

“Through the ER Program, the federal government plays a key role in helping state DOTs repair highways and bridges that have been damaged by natural disasters and other emergencies. 

“Currently, the ER Program itself is drastically short of the funding necessary for all the eligible projects. 

“As of June 25, the current funding shortfall stands at more than $3.5 billion, with a backlog of [projects in] 38 states and territories that stem from more than 130 eligible events.

“Ensuring adequate funding for the ER Program is vastly important to helping communities recover from these events and restore connections in our supply chain. 

“Moreover, the Highway Trust Fund, which provides contract authority for certain surface transportation programs, will face another funding shortfall, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

“Specifically, the CBO estimates that the Highway Trust Fund’s shortfall is more than $284 billion over the 10-year budget window. So you see where we are.

“This amount does not account for the prudent cash cushions that are always recommended by the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

“The Committee will have to contend with the Highway Trust Fund’s shortfall when we begin our work on the next surface transportation reauthorization bill, which we’ll begin probably the beginning of next year.

“In the meantime, the Biden administration transmitted an additional supplemental appropriations request to Congress, which builds on their request from last fall.

“I expect that Congress will need to consider a supplemental appropriations bill to address the funding shortfall of the ER Program and other pressing needs in the coming months.

“As part of that legislation, I expect that Congress will also have to consider the extent to which statutory cost-share requirements for any ER projects should be changed.

“In general, an ER project has a federal cost share of either 80 or 90 percent based on the type of highway or bridge that is being repaired.  

“My colleague, Senator Cardin, has introduced a bill that would provide 100 percent federal funding to replace the Key Bridge.

“I want to raise just a couple of issues…that I think Congress should consider as it evaluates whether a 100 percent federal cost share is appropriate for this project.

“The Key Bridge was a revenue-generating asset, with more than $56 million in toll revenue collected in [fiscal year] 2023.

“My understanding is that the Maryland DOT intends for the new bridge to also be a tolled facility, which means that there is a source of funding for Maryland DOT’s 10 percent cost share. 

“In fact, this funding model was successfully used to construct the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore, Maryland. 

“The federal government advanced Maryland its required 10 percent, and Maryland reimbursed the federal government with revenue from the tunnel’s tolls over time.

“As I mentioned earlier in my statement, there are many important projects that are currently on the ER backlog list.

“Congress should determine an equitable basis for when ER projects should receive a greater share of federal funding than what is allowed under the program’s statute. 

“If Congress does not require Maryland to share in the costs of a project like the replacement of the Key Bridge, which will have a revenue source, how can Congress require any other recipient of ER Program funding to pay their cost share?

“I look forward to gathering information and feedback from our witnesses on this matter.

“I am also eager to hear about any updates on the status of the Maryland DOT’s efforts to construct the new bridge, including any updates to the cost estimate and scope of the project, given that responses to the agency’s request for proposals were due last month. 

“And I look forward to learning more about how Maryland DOT plans to deliver this project and whether the agency will be able to utilize any existing authorities to expedite the environmental review and the permitting process.

“So, I thank our witnesses for being here and I thank the Chairman for having the hearing.”
 

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