Bridge funding proposals are circulating on Capitol Hill as the investigation into causes of the Minneapolis bridge collapse continues. Congress quickly authorized $250 million for a replacement bridge, and the Dept. of Transportation provided $55 million for costs related to the collapse (see story, p. 15). Some lawmakers want to address bridge maintenance nationwide.

When Congress returns from its August break, Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will seek to add $1 billion for bridges around the country to a pending 2008 DOT spending bill, a spokesperson says. In the House, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) will push his proposed new trust fund to fix deficient bridges. But reaction to Oberstar’s plan from President Bush and the transportation committee’s top Republican was swift and negative.

In the Senate, Murray will propose a floor amendment to add $1 billion for bridges to the DOT spending bill but keep the measure within its overall budget allocation, the staffer says.

"House transportation committee chairman’s proposed trust fund for deficient bridges was welcomed by state officials and some construction groups. But criticism from President Bush and the top Republican on the transportation committee dim the outlook for passage."

He could not provide details about how funds would be distributed among states. When the Appropriations Committee approved the bill in July, it included $5 billion for bridge replacement and rehabilitation, up 22% from this year’s mark. The measure would set the overall highway obligation ceiling at $40.2 billion, up 3% from 2007.

On the table in the House is Oberstar’s bridge trust-fund idea, which drew praise from construction groups and state transportation officials when it was unveiled Aug. 8. Oberstar has slated a hearing for Sept. 5 on bridges and “is going to want to move forward with something,” says Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division.

“How it might play out is hard to tell,” says American Highway Users Alliance President Greg Cohen. But he believes that the plan won’t go anywhere unless Oberstar is able to pick up some Republican support. Rep. John Mica (Fla.), the transportation panel’s ranking Republican, slammed the proposal as “a Band-Aid approach to a critical national transportation infrastructure problem.” Says Cohen: “It’s not a good sign that that committee is operating in a partisan manner....And I think it dims the prospect of anything getting done, even if something’s obvious,” such as fixing deficient bridges.

With Congress focusing on Iraq when it returns and legislative days limited, Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president for government affairs, says it will be “a heavy lift to do something” on Oberstar’s proposal this year.