Office of Rep. James Oberstar
Oberstar's plan would focus on structurally deficient bridges on Interstates, other key highways

In the wake of the Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed at least five persons, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, said he plans to propose a new trust fund to finance repairs and upgrades to the more than 6,000 structurally deficient bridges on the Interstate system and other major U.S. highways.

In announcing his plan at a press conference in Minneapolis, near the site of the Interstate–35 bridge that collapsed Aug. 1, Oberstar said the amount of money to be raised and the sources of the funds will be determined after federal and state highway officials provide more information on the repair costs. But background information provided by the transportation committee says that financing options include a temporary gasoline and diesel fuel user fee or a tax on oil imported to the U.S.

The program would apply to the 6,175 structurally deficient bridges on the National Highway System, a 162,000–mile group of roads judged to be the most critical in the country. The NHS includes the Interstate network and other major arterial roads.

Besides the new trust fund, Oberstar also called for the Federal Highway Administration immediately to update bride inspection standards and for states to conduct immediate inspections of all NHS structurally deficient bridges. The day after the I–35 bridge collapsed, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters called for immediate inspections of the 756 steel deck truss bridges in the U.S., the type of span that failed in Minneapolis.

Oberstar said the bridge plan would be his panel's first priority when Congress returns in September from a month–long break. The committee has scheduled a Sept. 5 hearing on structurally deficient bridges.

Separately, the top Republican on the transportation committee, John Mica of Florida, issued a call for "a dramatic investment" in a wide range of transportation infrastructure, including highways, bridges, rail, transit, airports and other public works.

Speaking at a transportation conference in Irving, Texas, Mica didn't specify how much money he'd recommend or how to fund the improvements he supports. He did say that officials "will have to think creatively to finance these vital improvements," and added, "We must find ways to better leverage the taxpayer's dollar and we must take advantage of the investment potential that exists in the private sector."