Wednesday, 5 September 2007
Congress is back in session after a month of recess and one of the first orders of business was to address the problem of the nation’s deficient infrastructure, specifically bridges. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-MN, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee led off with the National Highway System Bridge Reconstruction Initiative that would impose a five-cent-a-gallon user fee for three years on gasoline to fund bridge rehabilitation and repair.
The committee held a hearing Wednesday to begin talking about the state of the nation’s bridges. Opposing the new bridge initiative, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters testified in front of Oberstar’s committee, saying that the situation does not merit raising the gas tax. Firing back at her, Oberstar stated, "You can’t have a bake sale to fix bridges" illustrating the magnitude of the problem at hand. While the Bush Administration seems unwilling to endorse this proposal, the need for a dedicated source of funding for bridge rehabilitation is definite, and lawmakers will have to make decisions on how best to solve the problem.
ASCE supports Chairman Oberstar’s bridge initiative and sent a letter to the committee in support of the program. Additionally, ASCE member Andrew Herrmann, P.E., F.ASCE, a managing partner with Hardesty and Hanover in New York, testified before the committee Wednesday to offer technical expertise on bridge conditions and lent his and ASCE’s support to the Bridge Reconstruction Initiative. Herrmann, a bridge engineer, warned the committee that bridges are only one part of a seriously jeopardized national infrastructure system, "As with other critical infrastructure, a significant investment is essential to maintain the benefits and to assure the safety that society demands." In the coming weeks, ASCE will testify in front of other congressional committees and continue to provide congressional leaders with vital information on the state of the nation’s infrastructure and how to improve it.
Similar to the recent emphasis on bridge safety in Congress, many states are proposing their own rehabilitation initiatives to begin addressing the needs of their own bridges. A USA Today article on September 4th highlighted a few of the new steps state legislatures are taking to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges in the states. Proposed solutions range from requiring more frequent bridge inspections to issuing bonds to pay for roads, but all offer at least some acknowledgement that the threat of tragedy is real and action must be swift. Read the full article at http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-09-03-bridges_N.htm
Next week ASCE will highlight Bridges and Roads as its featured category in our September campaign to Raise the Grades on the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Look out for more information next week and check www.asce.org/reportcard Read ASCE’s testimony and letter at http://www.asce.org/pressroom/publicpolicy/inside_congtest.cfm