Mr. President, I’m here to speak about 3999, which is the companion bill to a bill that senator Durbin and I introduced in the senate about bridges and bridge repair. Senator boxer today asked this bill be called up. It successfully was passed through our committee, the environment and public works committee, and she asked the bill be called up because, obviously, we're in the waning days of the session here and we felt this was an incredibly important bill for this country. Unfortunately, the other side blocked this bill. They wouldn't allow this bill to be heard. And I would like to, today, to make some comments about the objections from the other side to this bill. I don't understand it.

I think much knows what happened in Minnesota on august 1st. Our nation was shocked to learn that an eight-lane highway in the middle of Minnesota, the I- 35 bridge collapsed. A bridge should just not follow down in the middle of America, not a bridge that is an eight-lane freeway, not a bridge I drive my 13-year-old daughter over every day. Now, as you know, there's been great progress in rebuilding that bridge. In fact, we have a new bridge and that bridge opened up just about a week ago and that new bridge spans the river. We're very proud of the workers that worked on that bridge. But it is will a spot of great sadness as we remember the 13 people that died -- the 50 some people that were injured, the 100-some cars that went into the bridge, all the rescue workers that saved so many lives. We must still get to the bottom of why this enormous bridge fell into the middle of the Mississippi river. It didn't happen because of an earthquake or a barge coalition. Something -- collision, something went terribly wrong. Evidence is accumulating that the bridge's condition was deteriorating four years and it was a subject of growing concern with the Minnesota department of transportation. This wasn't a bridge over troubled water. This was a troubled bridge over waters. Still, as a former prosecutor, like the presiding officer, I know that we must wait until all the facts and evidence are in before we reach a verdict.

We will need to be patient as the investigation continues. Mark Rosenkurd the Chairman of the National Transportation Board said last night the NTSB investigation is nearing completion and that a final report should be ready for public release very soon. The chairman also said that photographs of the gusset plates which were half an inch thick and warped were stressed by the weight of the bridge and may have been a key indicator to the dangerous stayed of the i-35-w bridge. We know it was most likely a design defect but the chairman has said that the photographs shows there was visible problems and so we will await the report to see what the NTSB thinks of that, but, clearly, there was some indication that there were problems with this bridge. Finally, the bridge collapse in Minnesota has shown that America needs to come to grips with broader questions about our infrastructure.

Americans were shocked into a realization of how important it is to have safe, sound, infrastructure. Because we also have learned that another bridge in our state -- and I think you have seen this across the country -- had a similar design, we've actually looked at all our bridges in Minnesota and we have another bridge closed down in the middle of St. Cloud, Minnesota. This bridge has been closed down and we look all over the country and we see problems with our infrastructure.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, more than 25% of the nation's 600,000 bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Unfortunately, it took a disaster like the bridge in our state, to put the issue of infrastructure investment squarely on the national agenda. Of these 25% of the nation's bridges that are found to be structurally deficient, the 600,000 bridges, 74,000 of them come into the category of "structurally deficient."

In my home state, that means 1,579 bridges are considered structurally deficient. There is virtually no way to drive in or out of any state without going over one of these Britons. When the average -- one of these bridges. When the average age of a bridge is 43 years and 25% of all American bridges are in need of repair or replacement, it's time to act.  The government accountability office released a study raising several issues regarding the federal highway bridge program. First, the program has expanded from improving deficient bridges to including funding criteria that make nearly all bridges eligible. Second, states are able to transfer bridge program funds to other transportation projects. Third, there are disincentives for states to reduce their inventories of deficient bridges since doing so would reduce their federal bridge funds.

Finally, GAO noted that the long-term trend is more bridges in need of repair and the cost of repair rising as well. In other words, the highway bridge fund is not fiscally sustainable. Just a few weeks ago, transportation secretary peters announced that the federal highway trust fund would not be able to meet its obligations and, as you know, we replenished that fund. But that is not enough. And we all know that that is not enough. So, that is why we have introduced the bill and Senator Durbin and I introduced S. 3338, the national highway bridge construction and inspection act, which is a companion bill to H.R. 3999.

The bill that congressman Oberstar successfully authored and moved through the house. And in the house, I think my colleagues across the aisle should know, that there was much republican support for the bill. It passed by a wide margin, and they were able to get the bill through the house. This is what the legislation does. And the reason I care about -- the reason I led up to it about the story of our bridge is after we looked at what happened to our bridge in Minnesota, we ands that about 50% of the highway bridge fund, that federal funds had not been used for bridge maintenance. You look across the country and find out they're used for a construction project to plant flowers, four all kinds of things. If we have a highway bridge program that money should be used for bridge maintenance and bridge reconstruction. At the hearing that chairman boxer had on this topic, we actually had some very interesting testimony from witnesses who talked about the fact that bridge maintenance is never a very sexy thing. People don't like do that as much because it doesn't involve cutting ribbons and it doesn't involve new projects.

And so there's all kinds of actual reasons that our country has not been putting the money that it should into this bridge maintenance. What our bill does is it would require the federal highway administration and state transportation departments to develop plans to begin repairing and replacing bridges that pose the greatest risk to the public. See this does is it and says; let's look at the bridges that are most in need of repair and let's put our money there first. I cannot believe that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would object to that kind of idea, that we should actually triage this and make sure we're repairing the most seriously problematic bridges first. I would also require -- it would also require the federal highway administration to develop new bridge inspection standards and procedures that use the best technology available. You wouldn't believe some of the old technology that's being used to look at these bridges. And as time goes on now, we've developed new and more advanced technology and that technology is what should be used here in order to examine these bridges and figure out what's wrong with them and which ones should be repaired. And as I mentioned, because some of the states have been transferring their bridge repairs to highway maintenance programs to use for wildflower planning or road construction, this bill would also ensure that federal bridge funds can only be transferred when a state no longer has bridges on the national highway system that are eligible for replacement. I just think anyone out there -- remember the public when they heard this, when they heard that the bridge money was going to other things it wouldn't make sense to them when we have bridges falling down.

Finally, it would authorize an additional $1 billion for the reconstruction of structurally deficient bridges that are part of the national highway system. We first want to improve the safety of these bridges and we do it again by using a risk- based prioritization, a triage of reconstruction of deficient bridges. It has with it an independent review. It has with it a performance plan. This doesn't allow earmarking. This little plan for bridges -- it says, let's look what the most seriously deficient bridges are and go there first. Secondly, it strengthens bridge inspection standards and processes. It requires immediate update of these bridge inspection standards and we have a lot of testimony on this of why this would be important because we have new information and reasons that we want to update these standards.

Certainly the bridge collapse in Minnesota showed that we want to have increased scrutiny of our inspection standards. We're going to await that report, as I mentioned at the beginning of my comments here, but we do know that there may have been some problems with the inspectios. It was a design defect initially but there may have been some problems with the inspection. Third, we increase the investment for the reconstruction of structurally deficient bridges on the national highway system.

Again, $1 billion for reconstruction of structurally deficient bridges. If they are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq -- that's how much we're spending, $10 billion a month in Iraq -- it just really boggles my mind why the other side would block us from trying to spend $1 billion on bridges in America that are sorely in need of repair. So that's our plan and that's what we're trying to do here, Mr. President. It is a start. We all know there's a lot more work that he had into to be done that will be done -- that needs to be done, that will be done in the committee next year. Work has to be done with funding, with an infrastructure bank.

We know we need to do better with increasing costs of gasoline, with public transportation, and other ways of travel. We also know we have this burgeoning energy economy out there which is really exciting for the rural areas of my state, with wind and with so similar and with geothermal and with biofuels and with all of this, it's going to take, as know, from the state of Colorado with all the work that's being done there in the energy area, oil shale in North Dakota or the work that's being done across this country, we know we're going to need better transportation systems to transport this energy to market. Yet we have failed to improve our transportation system.

And if we're going to move into the next century's economy, we cannot be stuck in the last century's transportation system. So, as I said, this bill to at least make sure that our most seriously dangerous bridges are repaired and maintained is a start. That's why I’m asking my colleagues on the other side of the aisle not to block this bill, not to add a bunch of amendments that have not gone through the committee because we're in the waning days of the session, and we only have the house bill now because that's the easiest vehicle to use, even though the senate bill was exactly the same. We're using the house bill because then we won't have to have a conference committee because we just want to get this done. I'm hopeful this will get us headed toward action. As we learned that day, that august 1 day in Minnesota, we just can't afford to wait anymore. We have to get this done. Thank you very much, Mr. President. I yield the floor and I note the absence of a quorum.