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DODD URGES INVESTMENT IN NATION'S INFRASTRUCTURE

On eve of anniversaries of Minneapolis bridge collapse and introduction of bipartisan bill, Dodd delivers speech on importance of rebuilding America's infrastructure

July 31, 2008

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, today spoke on the Senate floor on the state of our nation’s infrastructure and the importance of long-term investment in our roads, bridges, mass transit, drinking water, and wastewater removal systems.  Dodd’s speech comes on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the tragic I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Tomorrow also marks one year since Dodd introduced the National Infrastructure Bank Act along with Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE).  Dodd has held two hearings on the legislation, which has 12 co-sponsors.
“As we remember the tragedy of a year ago, I expect that my colleagues are asking themselves, as I am, what can we do to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future?” said Dodd.  “My answer is this: we must do all that we can to rebuild America’s infrastructure, and we must do it now.  The National Infrastructure Bank would allow us to begin making these urgently needed investments in our infrastructure and would put us back on the path toward safety and prosperity.”
Senator Dodd’s full remarks as prepared are below, and a summary of the legislation is attached:
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to remember the terrible tragedy that occurred one year ago tomorrow in Minneapolis, when the bridge carrying Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis abruptly collapsed during the evening rush-hour.  At least fifty vehicles plunged 60 feet into the river, killing 13 people and injuring dozens more.  As we approach the anniversary of this devastating event, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, with Senator Klobuchar, Senator Coleman, Representative Ellison, whose district the bridge is in, and all those affected by this tragedy. 
The people of Connecticut can sympathize with the people of Minnesota as they prepare to remember:  Twenty-five years ago, a bridge carrying Interstate 95 over the Mianus River in Greenwich, Connecticut, abruptly collapsed in the early afternoon.  Four vehicles plunged into the river, three people died, and three others sustained serious injuries.  It remains the worst transportation disaster in my State’s history.
Mr. President, the tragedy in Minnesota is the most recent example of our national infrastructure crumbling before our very eyes.  Indeed, this is not a problem only affecting Minneapolis or Greenwich or – in the case of last year’s steam pipe eruption – New York City.  It is a problem affecting every state, county, city, and community between San Diego, California, and Bangor, Maine.  For too long we have taken our infrastructure systems – our roads, bridges, mass transit systems, drinking water systems, wastewater systems, and public housing properties – for granted.  For too long we have failed to invest adequately in their long-term sustainability.  And today, we find ourselves in a precarious position concerning their future viability – a precarious position that is costing lives and jeopardizing the high quality of life we’ve come to enjoy and expect as Americans.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that 152,000 of the nation's bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Put another way, one out of every four bridges in our nation is in a state of serious disrepair. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimates that it would cost $140 billion to repair these bridges.
The life-threatening problems are not confined to our bridges. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that approximately 14,000 Americans die each year at least in part because our roads and bridges are no longer up to the task.
Congestion on our roads causes tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants to be pumped into the atmosphere day after day.  These emissions compromise the health of children and adults, and contribute to global warming, which poses immense risks to the future of all humans.
Tens of millions of Americans receive drinking water in their homes every day from pipes over 100 years old.  Here in our nation’s capital, in Georgetown – one the city’s most affluent neighborhoods – wastewater is still conveyed through wooden sewage pipes constructed in the nineteenth century.
In the City of Milwaukee, over 400,000 people were sickened several years ago with flu-like symptoms caused by a strain of bacteria in the municipal drinking water system.  The bacteria strain was eventually linked to inadequate treatment of the drinking water.
It is not just our health and safety that is affected by our crumbling infrastructure.  In fact, our national prosperity is at stake.  From the days of the Roman aqueducts to the present, a nation’s ability to grow and prosper has always relied upon its ability to effectively move people, goods, and information.  Ask any American today how we’re doing in achieving this objective, and chances are the response would be the same:  we can do better.  When the average American spends 51.5 hours a year – more than two full days of their life, per year – stuck in traffic congestion, we can do better.  When one out of three of our roads are in poor, mediocre, or fair condition, we can do better.  When the United States invests less than two percent of its Gross Domestic Product on infrastructure while countries like China and India invest between seven and twelve percent, we can do better.
Mr. President, tomorrow is also the one-year anniversary of the introduction of the National Infrastructure Bank Act, by Senator Hagel and myself.  The legislation has gained twelve co-sponsors over the year. The Infrastructure Bank would establish a unique and powerful public-private partnership to restore our nation’s infrastructure.  Using limited Federal resources, it would leverage the significant resources and innovation of the private sector.  It would tap the private sector’s financial and intellectual power to meet our nation’s largest and most critical structural needs. 
The Banking Committee has held two hearings on the subject of infrastructure and we have heard strong support in favor of the Infrastructure Bank bill.  We heard from a number of mayors, representing cities of various sizes from different regions of our country, as well as from individuals with expertise in public and private financing, civil engineering, labor, and business.  They were unanimous in voicing compelling support for increased investment in our nation’s infrastructure and for the need to develop and implement alternative ways to finance this critically important investment in our nation’s future.
Some might say that our legislation is “too expensive”, or that “we can’t afford to implement such a policy”.  I say we can’t afford not to implement it.  The safety and health of all Americans is directly and adversely affected by the deterioration of our roads, bridges, mass transit, drinking water, wastewater removal, and other vital components of our national infrastructure.
The American Society of Engineers estimates that an investment of $1.6 trillion over five years is required just to bring our current infrastructure to an acceptable level.  That translates into $320 billion a year – just to upgrade existing structures to serve the needs of our nation. This burden cannot be borne by the federal government alone.  The sheer scope of the problem before us will require the commitment of both the public and the private sector to address.  Witnesses at the Banking Committee’s hearings testified that the National Infrastructure Bank will allow the federal government to leverage up to $250 billion from the private sector.  Such a partnership between the public and private sectors is the most appropriate way of bringing needed resources to bear to address this national challenge.
As we remember the tragedy of a year ago, I expect that my colleagues are asking themselves, as I am, what can we do to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future?  My answer is this: we must do all that we can to rebuild America’s infrastructure, and we must do it now.  The National Infrastructure Bank would allow us to begin making these urgently needed investments in our infrastructure and would put us back on the path toward safety and prosperity.
Again, I extend my thoughts and prayers to the people of Minnesota, and I yield the floor
 
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