In the wake of the Aug. 1 Minneapolis bridge collapse, bridge safety has taken on new urgency for state transportation leaders across the U.S. State transportation department chiefs who gathered in Milwaukee Sept. 27-Oct. 1 for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ annual meeting said they have done inspections and assured the public that their bridges are safe.
"DOTs worry about trust fund deficit and congressionally required highway aid rescissions."
For now, they are waiting for findings of the National Transportation Safety Board probe into the causes of the collapse while keeping a worried eye on looming problems with federal funds. Victor Mendez, Arizona Dept. of Transportation director, says he’s more concerned about the Highway Trust Fund’s health now than a year ago. The fund’s highway account is projected to post a $4.3-billion deficit in fiscal 2009. To close a $4.3-billion outlay gap, obligations may have to be cut by $16 billion. “That needs to be resolved pretty quickly,” Mendez says.
The Senate Finance Committee approved adding some $5 billion to the fund. AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley says state officials have assurances from congressional leaders that “during an election year, they’re not going to allow the program to be cut that massively.” But a deal is far from done.
Another headache is an increase in congressionally directed rescissions of highway authority. Fiscal 2008 DOT spending bills that passed the House and Senate would require rescinding more than $3 billion in contract authority. What’s worse, SAFETEA-LU mandates a 2009 rescission of more than $8 billion. Horsley says past rescissions have restricted state DOTs’ flexibility but an $8-billion cut could have more severe effects.