Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 26, 2013

Building bridges: SAFE Act merits consideration


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Legislation recently introduced by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., would authorize up to $57 million in federal funds for the replacement and rehabilitation of aging West Virginia bridges.

It’s a well-intended measure that merits full consideration and debate in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Strengthen and Fortify Existing Bridges, or SAFE Bridges Act, would specifically provide dedicated funding for the states to help reduce the backlog of more than 150,000 bridges across the nation that have reached or are nearing the end of their expected life span. In West Virginia, it is estimated that 2,500 bridges are in need of rehabilitation or replacement. Many of those can be found right here in southern West Virginia.

The legislation is in response to the recent collapse of the I-5 Bridge in Washington State. Rahall’s measure is expected to be referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Rahall is the top Democrat serving on that committee. Because there are aging bridges across the nation, Rahall hopes the measure will enjoy bipartisan support in the House, according to spokesman John Noble.

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.  

 “Last month, we received a dramatic wake-up 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,” Rahall said in announcing the SAFE Bridges Act. “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 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.”

Currently, there are 66,749 structurally deficient and 84,748 functionally obsolete U.S. bridges in America, according to the Department of Transportation. And a structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridge presents an obvious danger to public safety. We simply can not continue to ignore these structures.

Infrastructure across our nation — and right here in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia — is aging and in many instances obsolete. Bridges need to be repaired, and in many instances, replaced.

The SAFE Bridges Act merits full consideration and support in the House.