Not enough bridges mean troubled waters


Fallout over the I-5 bridge collapse demonstrates the need for a bigger fix. As I have been writing about, the Highway Transportation Fund, or better known as the Highway Trust Fund, is going broke, and yet Congress sits idly by and does nothing.

In 2008, when our current president took office he made a promise to put construction workers back to work, particular highway construction workers with his stimulus package. So I ask you, how’s that working for everyone?

When a bridge collapses, it happens in a matter of seconds. But the fallout from the I-5 Bridge that collapsed in Washington in May will be haunting us for months or even years. Federal investigators had their work cut out for them when they arrived to find out a 160-foot section of the Skagit River Bridge resting in a crumpled heap on the river bed. Just a few hours had passed since a southbound truck carrying an oversized load struck the bridge supports, and that sealed the fate of the bridge in the early evening of May 23.

In early press briefings, the NTSB stated that they would be focusing on the bridge itself and the oversized load that struck the bridge. They have not yet released their findings in a final report.But I’m sure when it does come out, it will focus on the fact that this bridge had been struck in the past and the most recent in October 2012. You need to know that every time a bridge is struck, it weakens the bridge structure. So, when it finally collapsed, it was not just that one collision; it was the multitude of accidents that led up to the collapse.

Now once again Congress is up in arms and is calling for action to be done.

If you don’t know it, the Highway Trust Fund is broke. It’s not out of money yet. But it doesn’t have the funds to take on a project of this magnitude. Congress is still scratching its heads to figure out where the funds are going to come from. They have robbed Peter to pay Paul for so long, it has forgotten that it need funds to do the things it feels it likes to do, and that is spend money.

Congress needs to act quickly, or there could be another collapse. Then the outcries from the public would be ones heard around the world. This should have never happened in the first place, but when you leave money in a budget just sitting there, Congress is going to find a way to spend it, and spend it they did. All of the money in the Highway Trust Fund had already been earmarked for highway project.

We all know that Congress likes to spent money; we see it every day. Now that they have spent their way through most of the highway trust fund’s money, the light finally came on with them, and they are just now realizing that they had better do something, or there will be no more to spend.

As I have stated, ever since Congress approved MAP-21, the new two-year transportation bill and now that the clock is ticking, I never have seen Congress as nervous as it is now. When MAP-21 expires in September 2014, Congress is going to have to do some real work for the first time since being elected. For the first time, they are not going to shift the blame or kick this can down the road for someone else to handle. By 2014, the Highway Trust Fund will be mostly out of operating capital, and for the first time, Congress is going to have to make decisions on how it is going to fund the Highway Trust Fund, not only for the short term, but also for the long haul.

This means they will have to come up with a funding package that can sustain the highway trust fund well into the future. This will mean that ideas for funding that are already on the table will be looked at very closely. One idea has been the VMT or vehicle miles traveled, and I can say this one has Congress’ attention and the one that is most talked about. The means that this system would use would track your GPS that is already installed in your new car. As part of MAP-21, all new cars that come out in 2014 will have some sort of GPS tracking system installed in them. This was sold to the members of Congress as a safety tool for law enforcement, so when they had to investigate accidents or speeding, they could download that GPS on a computer and find out what you were doing just before you were involved in that accident or stopped for speeding.

While we all slept or just didn’t care, Congress managed to slip this one by everyone. I don’t know about you, but the idea of having “Big Brother” looking over my shoulder is not my idea of good.

I would suggest that we all start by contacting our elected officials and letting them know this is not the solution to their problem of low funds in the highway trust fund.

Michael McRae