Mr. President, I rise today to recognize the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the I-35W bridge and to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on that tragic summer day, as well as the first responders and health care workers and ordinary citizens who did extraordinary things on this day ten years ago.
This was a tragedy that captivated not only my state, but the country and the world. It was ten years ago to the day that the I-35W bridge collapsed in the Mississippi River, taking the lives of thirteen people and injuring over 100.
I’ll never forget the shock and horror of that day. Everyone in my state remembers where they were when they heard that the bridge collapsed. As I said that day, a bridge shouldn’t just fall down in the middle of America. Not an eight-lane highway. Not a bridge just a few blocks from my house that I drive over every single day with my family.
But it happened. And when something like that happens, a lot of it has to do with, yes, what caused it. You want to know that. But also you want to know how did a community respond. And that gets to the part that I really wanted to focus on today.
In the minutes and hours following the disaster, the response of Minnesota’s firefighters, police, hospital personnel, emergency personnel, ordinary citizens was nothing short of heroic. People did not run away from that disaster. They ran toward it.
Everyone remembers the video of the off-duty firefighter diving in over and over again, looking for survivors.
Or they remember that school bus precariously hanging on the edge of that broken down bridge. Where oridnary people had come to help on this broken bridge as a school bus rested on the side ready to fall, to get the kids off the bridge that were just going to a summer camp and coming home for the day. And the driver helping them out one by one, and not leaving that bus until every single kid got off the bus.
During the first two hours after the bridge fell down, the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center received and processed over 500 calls, 51 of which came directly from the scene of the disaster.
The eyes of the nation were on our state, and what they saw that day was the very best of Minnesota. That tremendous spirit of community is what carried us through the dark days after the bridge collapsed.
I remember going htere with then-Senator Coleman the next morning with the Transportation Secretary. And there were already literally billboards the morning after directing people where to go because this involved a major highway and telling them what buses would be working and which way they should go. That's a community responding.
Senator Coleman and I pledged that day that we would work with Congressman Oberstar, who was a major force, who is sadly no longer with us, on the House Transportation Committee. And then of course with Congressman Ellison, who is a congressman for that district. Senator Coleman and I pledged to get the money and secured $250 million in emergency bridge reconstructing in the first few days.
It was a bipartisan effort, and I was proud to have the support of so many people in this chamber. And as a result of that, and maybe this is a lesson that in light of what we heard Senator McCain's beautiful speech and in light of what we know we need to still be doing with infrastructure in this country. With President Bush's help and with bipartisan support, we rebuilt that huge bridge in Minnesota in a little over a year. Literally 13 months later, I was driving over that bridge to my house.
It was a shining example of what we can accomplish when we put politics aside to get big things done.
And I believe the I-35 W Bridge can and should be a model not just of a tragic disaster and of our declining infrastructure--which it certainly is--but also a model of how we can fix things. A Republican senator working with a Democratic senator, we got it done.
Now, we've made some progress in this chamber when it comes to infrastructure. In 2015, Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, led by Senator McConnell, the Leader, with Senator Boxer. They don't agree on much, but they worked hard to get that bill done. I always love that it was called the FAST Act, because it's kind of a scary thing to name a bill in Congress these days. It was a long-term reauthorization bill that increased transportation funding from existing revenue streams and helped provide certainty for local governments planning critical projects.
Under the FAST Act, Minnesota is scheduled receive more than $4 billion in funding over five years, which will help to ensure infrastructure is safe and efficient. And by the last year, it's about a $100 million increase just for our state over what we were getting before, the year before we passed the FAST Act.
But we still need to do more. This year the American Society of Civil Engineers, which every so often comes out with greades of the nation's infrastructure, gave America’s infrastructure a grade of “D+.” While other countries are running ahead with infrastructure investments, we’re still standing still.
Even with the FAST Act, it doesn't propel us into the future where we want to be. Because as we know, and as the presiding officer--the President--knows from his own state of North Dakota, we are an export state. We are an export country. We have to bring goods to market and into the United States. We have to bring people to their jobs, and we can't do that if we have infrastructure, and roads, and bridges, and rail, and blocks, and dams that are set up for the last century. Standing still means falling behind in this global economy.
In Minnesota we know the cost of neglecting our roads and bridges. Our country needs to build roads, bridges, locks, dams, and rails that work. While safety needs to be our first priority, it shouldn’t be our only expectation. Our infrastructure should help farmers from the Presiding Officer's home state to my state state to get crops to market quickly. Workers have to get to their jobs.
Let’s not forget about updating our energy grid, repairing and replacing our water infrastructure and our sewers, and making sure all Americans have access to broadband. And not just slow broadband but high-speed broadband.
I don't want to hear about another farmer going to the McDonald's parking lot to do his business or a doctor in Northern Minnesota that would go to look at his x-rays if he couldn't get to the hopsital, he couldn't look at x-rays at home or anywhere except at a coffee parking lot. That makes no sense.
If our infrastructure goes unaddressed, it will lead to a loss of over two million jobs.
Now here's some ideas.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri have a bipartisan bill that I am part of that would establish an Infrastructure Financing Authority to complement existing funding and expand investments by providing new incentives.
Another idea is to reform our tax code. And we have a lot of work on that to simplify it to create incentives for businesses to invest right here in America. We can also provide incentives to bring back trillions of dollars of foreign earnings. But if we do that, we have to make sure that a chunk of it goes into infrastructure.
Of course these tools should supplement and not replace direct federal funding. Because especially when it comes to in rural America, we're not going to see that same kind of public-private partnership that you might in other parts of the country. So it has to be a combination of funding sources to make this work for every state, especially for rural America.
I'm committed to moving forward in a bipartisan way to address our infrastructure needs and prevent another tragedy like the collapse of the I-35W bridge.
It’s time to work together to make this happen. And I actually believe the United States Senate is a place where we can make this happen. We've already shown the ability to get through a major infrastructure bill just two years ago, and we can do it again.
Today, on this tenth anniversary, we honor the victims and their families of that I-35W bridge collapse. And we recognize the bravery of not just the first responders who were incredible, and not just the 9-1-1 operators who answered those calls and got the help to where it was supposed to go, and not just the nurses and the doctors, and the ER people and the ambulance workers, and everyone else. We actually also today--and I can't think of a better time when we're going through a difficult period like we are in our country--to remember the actions of ordinary citizens who could have said, "Oh, this looks scary. I'm going home." They didn't do that. They didn't run away from the disaster. They ran toward it. Ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things. Why did they do it?
They knew that while they crossed over that bridge five minutes before it collapsed and could see it in their rear-view mirror and maybe they had gone and were approaching the bridge and saw it collapse. It was only a five minute or a 30-second difference, and it would have been them on the bridge. And they knew that and that's why they helped. That's what America really is all about.
It's not just a lottery where certain people win and certain people lose. You have to put yourself in the shoes of other people and think we're all on one team. That's what this democracy is all about, and that's what we saw on this day ten years ago, August 1 in Minnesota.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.