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Minneapolis Bridge Collapse Prompts Senate to Approve $1 Billion to Fix Aging Bridges

Sep 14, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

Six weeks after the Minneapolis Bridge collapse, the US Senate has allocated funds for replacing the doomed structure and has approved even more money to repair many of the nation’s other aging bridges.  But although the $1 billion set aside in the Senate’s new transportation funding bill for bridge repair might seem generous, it falls far short of the $65 billion needed to fix structurally deficient bridges around the country.   What’s worse, even this meager funding measure might not make it into law.

The collapse of the I-35 W Bridge in Minneapolis on August 1 that killed 13 people brought attention to the sorry state of the country’s infrastructure – especially its bridges.   The national highway system is over 50 years old.  Unfortunately, as traffic on roads has increased, federal and state funding to fix them has not kept up.  Last year, the Federal Highway Administration asked Congress for $375 billion for highway repair projects.  Unfortunately, Congress only authorized $286 billion.

But this year, things are different.  Though a cause for its collapse has yet to be determined, the 40-year-old Minneapolis Bridge had been deemed “structurally deficient.”  Surprisingly, there is nothing unusual about that – some estimates suggest that as many 74,000 US bridges are structurally deficient.   Suddenly, Congress started paying attention to bridges, and proposals for increased funding began making their way through various committees.

The new funding bill would give the state of Minnesota $195 million to replace the destroyed Minneapolis Bridge.  All fifty states would share in $1 billion set aside for bridge repair.  But the legislation might not make it past President Bush’s veto pen, because it is about $4 billion over Bush’s “top line” for spending. And before it even makes it to the President, the Senate bill must be reconciled with one the House passed following the I-35 W Bridge collapse.  The House measure included no money for fixing bridges other than the fallen Minneapolis Bridge.

But even if the Senate measure passes, it still won’t be enough to get all of the nation’s roads and bridges up to standards.  For that funding, some in Congress are proposing an increase to the 18.4 cent a gallon gas tax, which hasn’t gone up in more than a decade.  Minnesota’s Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat, has proposed a temporary 5 cent increase to the gas tax in order to raise $25 billion over three years to fix ailing bridges.  But President Bush, Republicans in Congress, and even some Democrats are opposed to such a measure at a time when the price of gas is over $2.00 per gallon.

But some in Congress, like Oberstar, believe the Minneapolis Bridge collapse has convinced their constituents that more needs to be done to fix America’s bridges.  They are promising to put up a fight in order to find a solution to the problem of the country’s aging bridges.


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