The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Oct. 31 approved by voice vote a bill that would provide an additional $2 billion over the next two years to states to improve the condition of structurally deficient bridges on the National Highway System. The "National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2007" was introduced by Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.).
In addition to providing increased investment for bridge reconstruction, the bill would also strengthen bridge inspection standards and processes by requiring states to immediately inspect all structurally deficient bridges and every year thereafter. All other bridges must still be inspected every other year. The bill also directs the Federal Highway Administration to update immediately National Bridge Inspection Standards and require uniformity among states in conducting inspections and evaluations. Furthermore, the bill requires all highway bridge inspectors to be trained and certified and they must be licensed professional engineers.
Under the bill, the U.S. Department of Transportation is directed to develop a risk-based priority process for states to assign priority for the reconstruction of each structurally deficient or functionally obsolete federal-aid highway bridge. States would be required to develop and update annually a five-year performance plan for bridge inspection and reconstruction. FHWA would be required to oversee state compliance with program requirements.
The $2 billion in additional funding over the next two years would be for states to reconstruct structurally deficient bridges on the National Highway System. The funding would be derived from General Fund revenue, not from the Highway Trust Fund. As a result, the funding is subject to the annual appropriations process. Funds would be distributed to states by formula and would not be subject to Congressional or Administration earmarking. Furthermore, the bill would prohibit states from transferring any Highway Bridge Program funds to other federal-aid highway programs unless the states can demonstrate that it has no structurally deficient federal-aid highway bridges. Currently, states may transfer up to 50% of their Highway Bridge Program funds to other accounts.
Originally, Chairman Oberstar had proposed a five cents per gallon increase in the Federal gasoline tax and the establishment of a separate trust fund to pay for this initiative. In order to get this initiative moving Chairman Oberstar has instead decided to use general fund revenue to fund the program.