Amy in the News
On 5th Anniversary of I-35W Bridge Collapse, Klobuchar Honors Victims and Heroes on Floor of U.S. Senate
August 1, 2012
Madam President, I rise today to speak on the five-year anniversary of the horrific collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis and to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on that tragic summer day.
As I said the day after the bridge collapsed, a bridge just shouldn't fall down in the middle of America. Not a bridge that's a few blocks from my house, not an eight-lane highway, not a bridge that I drive over every day with my husband and my daughter. But that's what happened that sunny summer day in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I can't even begin to count how many times I have thought about that bridge. Everyone in our state actually remembers where they were the day that it collapsed. It was one of the most traveled bridges in our state, and in all that day 13 people lost their lives and scores were injured. So many more could have been killed if not for the first responders, if not for the volunteers who instead of running away from that disaster when they actually had no idea what had actually happened, they ran toward it and rescued their fellow citizens.
Everyone was shocked and horrified. But on that evening and in the days that followed the whole world watched as our state came together as they did in the minutes and the hours after the collapse. I was proud to be a Minnesotan. The emergency response to the bridge collapse demonstrated an impressive level of preparedness and coordination that should be a model for the nation.
We saw true heroes in the face of unimaginable circumstances. We saw an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter named Shannon Hanson who ran to the scene. Tethered, she swam from car to car searching for survivors up and down in that river. We saw that school bus perched precariously on the falling bridge deck. I called it the miracle bus. Inside there were dozens of kids from a very poor neighborhood who had been on a swimming field trip. Their bus was crossing the bridge when it dropped. Thanks to the quick action of responsible adults and the children themselves, they all survived. They all got off that bus.
Although you can never feel good about a tragedy like this one, I certainly felt good about our police officers, our firefighters, our paramedics and all the medical personnel that literally saved dozens and dozens of lives. On this, the five-year anniversary of the bridge collapse, we should again honor those heroes and the countless lives that they saved.
And I just want to for a minute, Madam President, tell you a few examples. A woman who writes for the Star Tribune gathered some of their stories this weekend. Lindsey Waltz, she was in a a Volkswagen, went over the bridge, kicked out the doors and windows and was able to get out and survive. She is putting the collapse to work in her career. She is a youth worker who counsels children and teens. She discovered her trauma, as hard as it was, wasn't so different as that of her clients. She felt insecure in the world wondering if another bridge would collapse under her and she realized the homeless teens she counseled felt insecure wondering where they would sleep at night. It is a lesson she takes with her in her job.
Betsy Sather, her husband was 29 years old when he died in that collapse. They had just gotten married. They planned on having a family. You know what she did? She decided to adopt children. She decided to adopt children from Haiti. In the aftermath of that earthquake, she already knew the names of the children she was going to adopt, she wouldn't let those kids just be left in that rubble. She contacted our office. We worked with her and brought Alise and Ross back from Haiti and she is their mother. I saw them this weekend with their big smiles and their mom. That's an inspirational story.
The Colter family, they were in their minivan. The kids, the mom, the dad. It was clear at the beginning that they were severely injured and the mom, Paula, they didn't think she was going to survive. They also then, after they learned that maybe she was going to make it – she had devastating injuries to her brain and her back. At one time during one of the surgeries they had to jolt her heart back to life. They actually suggested her family start looking for nursing home care. But she didn't give up. Paula didn't give up, her family didn't give up. After two years with the help of some great therapists she could walk and move again, go back to her county job part time and two summers ago she and her trainer ran a 5k race. That's inspirational.
But then there's the bridge itself. After it collapsed, it was so clear to us that we had to rebuild it and we had to rebuild it right away. In just three days Senator Coleman and I worked together in the Senate to secure $250 million in emergency bridge reconstruction funding. Representative Jim Oberstar led the way in the House. Approval of the funding came with remarkable speed in this chamber. It was bipartisan and we were able to get the funding.
And from the moment that bridge started construction to the end, it took less than a year to rebuild the bridge that is now a ten-lane highway. Today the new I-35W bridge is a symbol of pride and resilience to the community. This year when I was at a twin cities parade with our veterans, the organizer of the parade said tonight they're lighting up the bridge red, white and blue so it literally has become a symbol of hope in our state. The new bridge is a 100-year bridge with more lanes. It is safer. It includes state-of-the-art technology as well as shoulders which the old bridge didn't have.
Of course bridge safety was on the minds of all Americans, especially those of us in Minnesota following the bridge collapse. Immediately afterwards the Minnesota Department of Transportation inspected all 25 bridges in Minnesota with a similar design as the I-35W bridge. The inspection led to the closing of Highway 23 bridge in Saint Cloud where a bulging of plate was found. It accelerated the planned replacement of that bridge which opened in 2009. Reforms were not all structural. Since then the Department of Transportation in our state has improved the way the inspections and the department handles critical information and necessary repairs.
Just like in Minnesota, bridge safety became a priority nationally as well. After the National Transportation Safety Board identified gusset plates as being heavily responsible for the collapse, a critical review of gusset plates was conducted on bridges across America and there was new attention focused on deterioration of steel and weight added to bridges over the years through maintenance and resurfacing projects. And the national organization that develops highway and bridge standards, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, updated bridge manuals that are used by state and county bridge engineers across the nation.
I will say, Madam President, that five years later we have still not made as much progress as I would have liked. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that over 25% of the nation's 600,000 bridges are still either structurally deficient or functional obsolete. And the American Society of Civil Engineers gave bridges in America a C grade in its 2009 report card for America's infrastructure and a D for infrastructure overall.
We did take a positive step forward with the recent bipartisan transportation bill that will help state departments of transportation fix bridges and improve infrastructure. For Minnesota, that bill means more than $700 million for Minnesota's roads, bridges, transit, congestion mitigation projects and mobility improvements. The bill gives greater flexibility to address federal resources to address unique needs in each state. It establishes benchmarks and national policy goals including strengthening our nation's bridges and links those to federal funds. It reduces project delivery time and accelerates processes that will reduce in half the amount of time to get projects underway.
However, we all know that more needs to be done. While other countries are moving full steam ahead with infrastructure investments, we seem to be simply treading water. And in an increasingly competitive global economy, standing still is falling behind. China and India are spending respectively 9% and 5% of their GPDs on infrastructure. We need to keep up. We need to build our infrastructure.
That's why I authored the Rebuild America Jobs Act last fall, which would have invested in our nation's infrastructure. It also would have created a national infrastructure bank, something that you're very familiar with, Madam President, to help facilitate public-private partnerships so that projects could be built that would otherwise be too expensive for city, county or even a state to accomplish on its own. And we included a provision to set aside a certain amount of funding for rural projects.
Unfortunately, while we got a majority of the Senate voting to advance this bill, we were unable to break the filibuster. So five years to the day, after the 35W bridge fell into the Mississippi river, we know we have much to do to ensure our 21st century economy has a 21st century infrastructure that we need.
I know that I am committed to move forward and working in a bipartisan way to address our nation's critical bridge and infrastructure needs and prevent another tragedy like the collapse of the I-35W bridge. They didn't distinguish on that bridge who was who on that day five years ago, who was a Democrat or Republican. And certainly those first responders that showed up, the cops and firefighters, they didn't ask what political party someone belonged to. They simply did their job. That's what we need to do in the United States Senate. Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.
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