The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s top Democrat, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, has introduced a bill that would authorize $5.5 billion over two years to repair and upgrade highway bridges across the country.
The measure, which Rahall introduced on June 19, would direct the funding to structurally deficient, functionally obsolete and fracture-critical bridges.
The money would come from the general fund, not the Highway Trust Fund. The trust fund’s highway account, the prime federal revenue source for highway and bridge construction, has been under severe financial pressure and is projected to start showing a deficit in late 2014. Drawing the $5.5 billion from the trust fund would put the fund under even greater financial strain.
Rahall’s bill, titled the Strengthen and Fortify Existing Bridges Act, or the SAFE Bridges Act, has gained support from construction and transportation groups as well as labor unions. However, so far, it has picked up no Republican co-sponsors. Republican backing will be necessary to get the measure through the GOP-controlled House. House transportation committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) had not commented on the bill as of June 20.
Rahall proposed the bill less than a month after a span of the Skagit River Bridge in Washington state collapsed after the load carried by a truck hit part of the bridge. Rahall said the accident “was yet another dramatic wake-up call on the state of American infrastructure.”
The funds in his bill would be divided through a formula based on a state’s share of the total number of deficient bridges in the U.S. Federal Highway Administration data show there are 151,497 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges in the U.S.
Of the bill’s $5.5-billion total, New York would get the largest share, at $683 million, followed by Pennsylvania with $500 million, California with $464 million, Massachusetts and New Jersey with $275 million each, and Washington state with $160 million (see state-by-state funding table).
If the bill is enacted, its authorized funds would be subject to annual appropriations.