A U.S. Senate subcommittee voted Tuesday to create a $500 million fund solely to repair or replace fragile bridges on major highway corridors.
The fund is one piece in the $54 billion 2014 budget, issued by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, which is chaired by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
States would apply for the aid competitively, similar to the TIGER stimulus grants that paid a share of the South Park Bridge and the Mercer Street rebuild. The U.S. goverment already spreads bridge money to state transportation departments, but this new fund effectively shifts more influence to the federal government.
The new fund, called Bridges In Critical Corridors, was inspired by the May 23 collapse of the Skagit River Bridge, which Murray describes as “a stern wake-up call”
to reinvest in aging bridges, particularly along corridors such as I-5 that support commuters, small businesses and large manufacturers.” However, the collapse was caused by an overheight truck — the Skagit bridge had passed recent inspections and didn’t appear on any list of urgent Washington state projects.
At the same time, Murray continued pressing for a rebuild of the I-5 Columbia River crossing between Vancouver and Portland, where one of the two freeway bridges is nearly a century old. Her budget includes $65 million next year toward design.
The federal government has offered about $1.3 billion toward the $3.5 billion project, which would include light rail and a bike-pedestrian path. However, some Washington state lawmakers oppose the bridge as designed and have threatened to block a state gas-tax increase if it includes a proposed $450 million state contribution. Other money would come from Oregon and from driver tolls.