I rise to speak in favor of the Drive Act. I was a supporter of this bill from the first vote that we had in the last week. There were some changes made immediately that I thought were important, and I think that this long-term bill is incredibly important to our country’s future.
Time and time again we have had these short-term extensions, and now that’s what the House of Representatives is talking about again. We have an opportunity here. Americans, as we know, you can’t fix a road in two months. In a State like Minnesota where we have two seasons – one road construction season and one winter – you can’t, the citizens cannot plan ahead and our state cannot plan ahead when we continue to have these short term extensions.
They also want to do bigger things and better things for transportation in our State, and this funding and this bill will allow them to do that instead of this Mickey Mouse short-term extension time after time after time. So like my colleagues, like our ranking member, Senator Boxer, like what we’ve heard from our chair, Senator Inhofe, what we’ve heard from Senator Durbin, Senator Whitehouse today, I think it’s incredibly important that we move forward with this bill.
Now, I came to this issue in a very, very tragic way and that is when a bridge fell down in the middle of a summer day. In fact, the anniversary is coming up in just a few days of this bridge collapse. It was a beautiful summer day--rush hour, tons of traffic going over one of the most heavily traveled bridges in our State. And this wasn’t just a bridge. It was an eight-lane highway. It was something you wouldn’t even notice was a bridge because there were always so many cars on it. It was the I-35W bridge.
And one day, and I was in Washington, I remember trying to call some people in Minnesota and the cell phone service wouldn’t work. And I thought, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong with the cell phone service?” What I found out about five minutes later was that people were calling panicked about their loved ones because tens of thousands of people were traveling near that bridge that day. And in fact, when that bridge collapsed, tragically 13 people died, dozens of cars were submerged.
Heroes that came to the front that day didn’t run away from that bridge. They ran toward it. No one will forget the off-duty firefighter, Shanna Hanson, who was going in and out, in and out on a rope tethered to the side of the bridge, trying to get people, trying to find people in that murky water. The fact that 13 people died, as tragic as it is, is something of a miracle given how many people were injured. Over 100 people were injured in this collapse. A school bus – a school bus—sat precariously on the edge of the bridge. A Tasty Truck driver literally veered out so the school bus wouldn’t go over the edge, ended up tragically dying himself when the truck caught on fire. That school bus was labeled the miracle bus because youth workers on that bus had the presence of mind to take these little kids who were on the bus, going out for a summer outing, and get them out the back and get them to safety.
That happened, all of that happened on August 1st. As I said that day, a bridge just shouldn’t fall down in the middle of America, not an eight-lane highway, not a bridge that is literally eight blocks from my house, that I drive every day with my family, with my daughter. That’s the bridge that fell down. So what did we do in Minnesota?
In 13 months we’ve rebuilt that bridge. On a bipartisan basis, just like you see here with this bill with the Drive Act, we worked together across the aisle. We got the federal funding. We rebuilt that bridge. But that’s not where the story ends. Because of what happened, because of the design defect that caused that bridge to fall in addition to two other issues, NHTSA found there wasn’t adequate inspections and they also found that there were problems with construction guides because there was construction work going on, but the bottom cause was a design defect. If we had adequate highway funding and we had adequate inspections and we were able to go back in and look at bridges like we did after the fact in Minnesota and found that others had the same defect and found that they had to be replaced and that our State put more money into infrastructure which has greatly helped us, which I should add to my colleagues in this chamber was one of the major reasons why literally CNBC just rated Minnesota the best state to do business in in the country, followed by Texas, Georgia, and Colorado.
One of the major factors they looked at was quality of life and infrastructure, because after this collapse we invested. That’s what this bill is about. It’s about making a safer America, as Senator Whitehouse just outlined with the “D’s” that our country is getting for infrastructure. It is about reducing congestion but it is also about our economy as shown in what’s happened to Minnesota since this bridge collapsed. It’s about our economy.
When we are building our economy based on exports we have to have a way to get goods to market. The way you do that is with upgraded rail, upgraded locks and dams – which we did in a bill last year--upgraded highways, and upgraded bridges. I am very excited about this bill. I love the fact that this leads us to a 21st century transportation system. I love the fact that we’re able to get my distracted driving provisions in there, with the help of Senator Thune and Senator Nelson, that I worked on with Senator Hoeven. A major safety risk in this country that we’re finally going to be able to find a way to get the money out to the States that has been sitting up and piling up and going nowhere so States can start educating people about distracted driving, and the work in the bill on graduated driving that I worked on so hard, on licenses as well as drunk driving.
There are a lot of good things in this bill but mostly this bill is about the long term. It’s about looking at a long-term economy; it’s about looking at long-term safety issues, instead of just putting a Band-Aid on every two months, every three months, every six months. This is an opportunity that can’t be missed. I asked my colleagues-- and we already have strong support including for the Export-Import Bank--I asked my colleagues across in the House to support this bill, do the right thing and come up with a long-term solution.
Thank you, Madam President, and I yield the floor.