Panel OKs emergency funds for recovery from bridge collapse

In the wake of the devastating bridge collapse in Minneapolis Wednesday evening, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday authorized emergency funds for the recovery effort.

The bill (H.R. 3311) was passed by a unanimous voice vote without debate. Sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., the bill authorizes $250 million in relief funds for the state of Minnesota to use in the repairs of the Interstate-35W bridge.

The eight-lane bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of repairs when it buckled during the evening rush hours Wednesday. Dozens of cars plummeted more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River. The bridge was crowded with traffic, and a train had been passing beneath the roadway at the time it fell.

The bill waives the $100 million per state, per year cap on emergency funding from the Highway Trust Fund, a precedent that Oberstar said had already been established in past bridge collapses.

Oberstar said the legislation was needed because the Highway Trust Fund had already been depleted for the year after funds were used for repairs on the San-Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in California.

Rep. Thomas Petri, R-Wis., said it was important to realize that "tragedies are not as rare as we'd like," and raised concerns with the backlog of bridge repair projects that already exist, because there is only $5 million left in the chronically underfunded trust fund for the year.

Oberstar promised that the trust fund "won't fall short in the authorization period. We're going to run over who ever gets in our way." Oberstar added that he spoke with Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters on Wednesday, and she agreed with the level of funding.

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