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July 31st, 2008
12:31 PM ET

One year after collapse, no money to fix bridges

Randi Kaye
AC360° Correspondent

One year ago I came to Minneapolis to report on the Interstate 35W bridge which had collapsed suddenly into the Mississippi River.

It happened during rush hour. Thirteen people died and more than 100 were injured. You may remember the terrifying images of a school bus full off children trapped on top off the bridge and the cars dangling from the bridge.

I lived and worked in this city for seven years so it felt very personal to me. I was a reporter here and crossed that bridge hundreds of times. I never expected it would collapse, nor did anyone else. But our infrastructure isn’t what it used to be. I’ve talked the folks who study this stuff.

Most of our bridges were built around World War II. They were designed to last about 50 years. I’m told the average age of a bridge in our country is about 43. Here’s what’s really scary though: the Federal Highway Administration said in 2006, one quarter of the nation’s nearly 600,000 bridges were rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Can you imagine?

The American Society of Civil Engineers says it will take $1.6 trillion over the next 5 years to repair all the bridges. But here’s the problem. A key source of that funding is drying up. The money comes from the Highway Trust Fund, which you pay for through taxes you pay on gasoline.

With people driving so much less, about 4 percent less in May alone, the U.S. Department of Transportation predicts tax dollars will fall far short of what’s needed for improvement projects. That means you may see a lot less construction on the roadways. The money simply isn’t there.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters says, “Without a doubt, our federal approach to transportation is broken. And no amount of tweaking, adjusting or adding new layers on top will make things better.. it is time for a new, a different and a better approach.”

Her short term solution is for the Highway Trust Fund to borrow from the Mass Transit account. But with more people using Mass Transit, does that make any sense?

Last week the U.S. House passed an emergency funding measure of $8 billion for the Highway Fund, but the Senate and the President still have to approve it. What do you think is the answer?

Some states like Minnesota are getting creative and considering taxing people for every mile they drive since they can’t depend on the gasoline tax anymore. Do you have a better solution?


Filed under: 360° Radar • Randi Kaye
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Don, WA

    You see it every day – "if it aint broke don't fix it" – then your car breaks down in the middle of the desert and you did'nt even bring water.

    July 31, 2008 at 11:28 pm |
  2. GF, Los Angeles

    We have 40% more revenue in the state of CA yet we're billions in the hole – someone(s) not being honest with where our money is going.

    July 31, 2008 at 9:48 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    I can see where the federal government might fund repairs to our bridges, etc, but I would expect the majority of it to be done by the state. Our highways are done by the local county with help from the state. I agree that we need to get these things repaired or rebuilt soon but I'm not sure its the federal governments responsibility.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 31, 2008 at 9:09 pm |
  4. Susan

    Randi:

    The federal government has cost shifted to the states what are called un-funded mandates. These require the states to raise the revenues needed to carry out the mandated programs. They can range from education to environmental to healthcare issues. I must assume that after paying for all these programs the states do not have the money in their budgets nor can they raise the revunues needed for decaying infastructure projects. The federal and state governments have to be able to work better, wiser and be more cost effective as we need to attend to this problem or else we will have more of these incidents happening.

    Susan
    Phoenixville,PA

    July 31, 2008 at 9:07 pm |
  5. Larry

    @Ashley H That was an Alaskan Senator. The Governor of Alaska is a damsel in distress wanting ANWR drilling since Alaskans have the highest prices at the pumps.

    July 31, 2008 at 8:18 pm |
  6. NateSC

    Republicans have also wasted as much money if not more on frivolous(eg. IRAQ), so they wont help our country either only the oil companies. Of course we pay taxes our government while big companies pay none and oil companies get rich. So who really is to blame its been a long time since the incident and we got nothing.

    July 31, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  7. Jan

    Apparently views about McCain's Congressional record won't be permitted on the blog either. Go check the record everyone.

    July 31, 2008 at 7:06 pm |
  8. Melissa, Los Angeles

    We are taxed enough in this country. The problem is there's no accountability for the money collected much less ensuring the contractors that are hired are doing their job and not sold to someone else for a cheaper rate. Until our government takes control of their spending – this country will always be broke.

    July 31, 2008 at 6:52 pm |
  9. Jan from Wood Dale IL

    If our tax dollars pay the salaries of the members of Congress, maybe we should force them to all work for minimum wage. Then each state would get the difference between their current salaries and minimum wage of their Congressional members to make the necessary infrastructure repairs. Once a state completes upgrading their infrastructures, then their Congressional members can go back to receiving full salaries.

    It's a balanced way of getting funds to each state, since each state has two senators and the number of House Representatives is based on the size of the state. It would keep members of Congress intune to the critical needs within their own states. And, after living on minimum wage for awhile, members of Congress would remember what it's like to have to balance their funds carefully.

    July 31, 2008 at 5:50 pm |
  10. Debbie - Missoula, MT

    I heard it cost $250 million to rebuild that bridge. Is that really how much is costs to build a bridge, or is it another example of a contract going to the buddy of a politician that is marked up 400%?

    July 31, 2008 at 5:43 pm |
  11. lampe

    CLINTON\McCAIN supporters don't blog here. 360 doesn't let our views be heard. I made 5 different comments last night on the blog and not 1 of them made it. I guess if you don't say positive things about Obama, you can't say nothing at all. Let's see if this makes it.

    July 31, 2008 at 5:40 pm |
  12. Robert Wooller Bradford, UK

    This is awful but is just what I expected under the Bush administration. Don't worry, things will improve dramatically once Obama wins later this year.

    July 31, 2008 at 5:34 pm |
  13. JC- Los Angeles

    Randi, it's disconcerting to think that last year's tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse would be a harbinger for the rest of our once proud nation.

    Not only is our infrastructure past its prime but due to a massive lack of oversight, incompetent leadership, worthless politicians, corporate malfeasance and unfathomable mortgage fraud, our nation now teters on the brink.

    Where are all the pundits now? I would suggest that every night you have a guest on CNN that has to explain his or her shoddy leadership.

    Keep up the great work, your quality work speaks for itself; now if the others could only follow suit.

    July 31, 2008 at 5:16 pm |
  14. Victor in Saanich, B.C. Canada

    The US, with a DEBT approaching $10 TRILLION, can find the money to initiate military actions and space exploration yet can't renew it's infrastructure or provide health care to ALL it's citizens!! This 'lurching and leaking supertanker needs 'dry dock' and when 'put to sea' needs to be 'sailed in a different manner and direction' to say the least!!

    July 31, 2008 at 4:52 pm |
  15. Ashne

    It is sad that we are trying to build Iraq when we can’t rebuild America.

    July 31, 2008 at 4:50 pm |
  16. Kevin C., in Portland, Oregon

    I think it's interesting how there's an never-ending supply of money for the "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan, but when it comes to funding for something necessary within this country, this government has trouble finding even one dime. Billions and billions of our money has been WASTED in other countries. We take care of building Iraq's infrastructure while our bridges, highways, electrical grid, etc., are completely falling apart. I'm so glad this corporation that we call "government" is looking out for the citizens of the US. We've been conned.

    July 31, 2008 at 4:40 pm |
  17. Ashley H

    No money to fix bridges?Thats pathetic,what about all the money we waste day in day out?If we still had the money it could have been used to fix the bridges, examples:Like the Alaskan governor, all that money he used to make the bridge to nowwhere, the Iraq war, ect.All that money wasted, could have been used to fix the bridges,unless we want another disaster,we better fix it, and fix it now.

    July 31, 2008 at 4:23 pm |
  18. Bev C Town of Tonawanda, NY

    We can "thank" W. and his political appointee cronies for the mess this country is in. How much effort does it take to fix a bridge?

    July 31, 2008 at 4:17 pm |
  19. seah Ohio

    The Democrats have spent money on frivolious things and their pet projects over the past few years. they only care about what they want.
    It will get worse with the burden of social programs promised and more illegal immigranst being given a free ride.

    The Democrats have proven what their priorities are with what they spent all the countries money on. People have watched them for years now. then they try to fluff it off and blame bush.

    Do they Think all Americans are stupid??????????????????

    July 31, 2008 at 4:17 pm |
  20. Lori

    As a first responder who saw the 35W bridge after it's collapse...I am all for spending the money. I think it is important to ensure our safety as citizens who cross these and take them for granted on a daily basis...

    July 31, 2008 at 4:06 pm |
  21. Heather

    Im not surprised at all. Think about it China is financing our rebate checks. The money we need for our national infrastructure simply doesnt exist. Our tax dollars go to pay the various things needed for our military. To be overseas this long and with all those government contracts that need to be paid to give our forces the technology they need to do their job. We pay for it and so does China and other countries. We are in debt. There is no money. There wont be for quite a while.

    July 31, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  22. Jim

    Somehow my local bridges are the responsibility of the federal government. Whatever...

    July 31, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  23. TAB

    Larry,
    What do mean "SPENT on reconstruction AFTER the civil war"? According to last week's blogs, we're still fighting and still paying.

    July 31, 2008 at 3:25 pm |
  24. Lisa

    And McCain wants to give us a gas tax holiday, resulting in even less money available for road repair. Maybe when an immediate family member of or Congressperson themselves is injured or killed on a bridge collapse, Congress will then take seriously the need for our infrastructure repair.

    July 31, 2008 at 3:23 pm |
  25. Lilibeth

    I like the last paragraph – taxing people for every mile they drive. In addition, how about allocating part of the revenue earned from Minneapolis’ tourism to strengthen their infrastructure? The tourists use the highways and bridges, too…just a thought.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    July 31, 2008 at 3:23 pm |
  26. Gary Chandler in Canada

    Oh, the Huckabee, fair tax, proposal would help a LOT.
    (it's not actually Huckabee's, it's been bandied about for decades by economists) It would help a LOT, if Obama or McCain whoever wins, would implement it.

    July 31, 2008 at 3:21 pm |
  27. Sandra, Wadley Ga

    Randi:

    It is truly a disgrace to see highways, bridges, levees, dams, etc. in such need of repair and they sure did not get this way overnight. The cost of the war in Iraq, at this point, has probably already exceeded the cost of the Vietnam war and now runner up to WWII. My taxes are going to pay for a war I do not agree with and the cost will likely exceed $3 trillion. So President Bush or whomever, please raise my taxes if it will ensure the safety of my children and grandchildren on America's highways and byways.

    July 31, 2008 at 3:17 pm |
  28. Gary Chandler in Canada

    When you think of it, and don't get mad folks, the above picture depicts America! A crumbling empire going into a sink hole.
    Some of your history professors correlate the crumbling of past empires with the indicators in the American economy and and foreign policies.
    The germination of solving big problems is to realise there are big problems. BIG PROBLEMS!
    A true American patriot would admit the 'Dream' is off the tracks! Can the ship be turned around?

    July 31, 2008 at 3:14 pm |
  29. rose

    Do you really expect to resolve this issue?
    no< and no…

    Like most conservatives, the current administrations, the one in Minnesota and the one in the White House, are very selfish individuals…did you really expect more?

    For 28years plus, this country has taken a nose dive and they(conservatives) don’t seem to care…so what makes this so different.

    July 31, 2008 at 3:08 pm |
  30. Larry

    Wonder how much we spent on reconstruction after the civil war.

    July 31, 2008 at 2:37 pm |
  31. Sharon from Indy

    Randi:
    Again, the culprit is foreign oil.

    Use it; can't afford it; use less and lose tax revenue for this country's infrastructure. Pretty pathetic.

    Need $1.6 trillion to update our failing bridge system? Sorry, it's gone. It is in Iraq going to Halliburton to rebuild that country's roads, bridges and transportation needs. Hey, we invaded it. I guess we need to rebuild it.

    Meanwhile......

    The USA's infrastructure gets older and more fragile. The next time a highway bridge collapses, when there is a black out in Chicago or New York, or if Atlanta is conserving water because of a drought, remember where the money is to make changes. It is in Iraq.

    Again, the culprit is foreign oil.

    July 31, 2008 at 2:23 pm |
  32. Melissa, Los Angeles

    Yah – get out of Iraq!

    July 31, 2008 at 1:53 pm |
  33. Larry

    Senate & house then add obama next January and the democrats will have the political trifecta; obama knows folk with that kind of money.

    Harvard will have the biggest school representation in the senate, house & executive branches.

    July 31, 2008 at 1:19 pm |
  34. NateSC

    This could be a way to increase our economy through job creation through public works might be for a short time but atleast that would put more people to work for something that is important.

    July 31, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  35. Cindy

    It's a shame that congress throws away our money on crap like the road to no where and other ridiculous things when our infrastructure is falling to pieces. How many more people have to die before they do anything?

    I hope that when the emergency Highway fund goes through and the money gets allocated to each state that it is actually used for what it was given for!

    I guess if congress isn't going to do anything then the states should try to get money anyway that they can to fix the roads and bridges. But who can pay anymore taxes when gas is so high now?

    And how does Minnesota know exactly how far people drive unless they have toll booths? We don't have them here so that won't work everywhere. But I guess to each his own.

    Cindy...Ga.

    July 31, 2008 at 12:59 pm |
  36. Missy

    Every time I drive through a tunnel, I think about what would happen should one collapse. Nobody would stand a chance.

    July 31, 2008 at 12:53 pm |