Rahall Introduces Legislation to Repair Nation’s Aging Bridges

Jun 19, 2013 Issues: Transportation and Infrastructure

Washington, DC – Driven by the recent collapse of the I-5 Bridge in Washington State, U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall today introduced legislation that significantly increases Federal investment in the Nation’s bridge infrastructure.  Rahall’s bill, the Strengthen and Fortify Existing Bridges (SAFE Bridges) Act, provides dedicated funding for States to start to reduce the backlog of more than 150,000 bridges, including 2,500 in West Virginia, that have reached or are nearing the end of their expected lifespan.

 “Last month, we received a dramatic wakeup call on the state of American infrastructure with the sudden collapse of the I-5 Bridge in Washington State that sent cars tumbling 30 feet into an icy river below,” said Rahall.  “The bridge that gave way was just one of thousands across the country that have exceeded their life expectancy and are in need of replacement. The legislation I am introducing today would give States the resources they need to start to reduce this unacceptably high backlog of aging bridges that pose a threat to public safety and our economic competitiveness.” 

 The SAFE Bridges Act introduced by Rahall today provides targeted funding for States to begin addressing the backlog of structurally deficient, functionally obsolete, and fracture-critical bridges. Under the bill, the Department of Transportation would distribute funds among the States by a needs-based formula based on each State’s share of deficient bridges. West Virginia would receive $57 million under the legislation.  The funds provided through the SAFE Bridges Act are in addition to the regular Federal-aid highway program funds each State receives.   

 “West Virginians know all too well the tragic consequences that can occur when older bridges are continuously saddled with loads they were never built to accommodate,” said Rahall.  “The collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant claimed the lives of 46 people, 46 years ago.  Following that horrible catastrophe, Congress dedicated specific funds for the repair and replacement of aging bridges and we simply cannot wait for a similar tragedy to occur before we get serious about investing in our bridge infrastructure once again.” 

 Currently, there are 66,749 structurally deficient and 84,748 functionally obsolete U.S. bridges according to the Department of Transportation.  The I-5 Bridge, which collapsed in Northwestern Washington State, was rated as functionally obsolete and surpassed its 50 year expected lifespan in 2006.  While many States have worked hard to reduce the backlog of deficient bridges, declining federal support for bridge infrastructure has significantly slowed their progress in recent years.  

            “Our bridges don’t just support the cars and trucks that travel over them,” said Rahall.  “They support jobs and economic opportunity while connecting our communities to one another.  Providing the means for safe and reliable transportation infrastructure is one of the core functions of our government and this legislation helps fulfill that responsibility.”