The House July 24 approved legislation providing an additional $1 billion to help repair and replace deteriorating bridges across the U.S. by a vote of 365-55. The bill also significantly toughens bridge inspection requirements.
Congress already appropriated $1 billion for bridges in 2008. The bill’s chief sponsor, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), says he introduced the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act last summer in response to the attention brought to the nation’s ailing bridges in wake of the I-35W collapse in Minnesota. The Dept. of Transportation says more than one in four bridges in the United States are structural deficient or functionally obsolete and that more than $65 billion could be invested immediately to replace or otherwise address existing bridge deficiencies.
“We must take action to put in place a framework to address this situation and ensure that the safety and structural integrity of the nation’s highway bridges do not continue to deteriorate,” Oberstar says.
The bill imposes more stringent training requirements for bridge inspectors and requires states to inspect structurally deficient bridges that receive federal funds annually, rather than once every two years. Some states do currently inspect bridges annually, but they are not required to do so under federal law.
The White House says it opposes the bill as it is currently written, objecting mainly to the additional $1 billion authorized for highway bridge replacement and rehabilitation. The Office of Management and Budget says the administration’s requested funding level of $39.4 billion for the federal highway program “is both responsive to current needs and consistent with budgetary realities.”
The bill cleared the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last Oct. 31. Comparable legislation has not yet been introduced in the Senate.