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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government


Senator James Inhofe
Congressional Record: 114th Congress
July 22, 2015

Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, I think at any time--hopefully soon--it appears that we are going to be bringing up the vote to proceed as we did yesterday.

Let me just repeat what I did just a couple of hours ago on the floor. I am not critical at all of the Democrats who voted against the motion to proceed yesterday based on the fact that we dropped the ball over here. We were supposed to give them the necessary information on some of the funding mechanisms and things on the offsets. We didn't give them enough time before the vote took place. You can't go over several hundred pages in a few minutes. Now it has been 24 hours.

Well, even my counterpart on the Democratic side, Senator Boxer, voted against it for the same reason. And they have a right. So, anyway, I feel optimistic that when we have this vote we can proceed to the bill.

Let's keep in mind that this is a bill I perceive as a must-pass bill. The alternative to this would be very, very expensive. It would go back to what we had to suffer through between 2009 and this moment that we are in right now; that is, a list of 33 short-term extensions. Short-term extensions, as we all know, are waste and irresponsible use of highway dollars. Consequently, we need to be spending that money on roads and bridges, not short-term extensions.

So I will look forward to getting that motion to proceed adopted. As soon as that happens, that is when we are going to pull the trigger to get as many people down on the floor with amendments. I keep hearing about all of the amendments that are out there that different Members want to come forth with. The criticism we had with the Democrats when they were in charge was that we were not able to get amendments.

Well, we changed that. Since we have been in control, we have allowed amendments. I know we have a lot of them--some germane and some not germane--but it is going to be an open-amendment process.

We need to get this thing moved forward and pass the next vote or we are not going to be in a position to really go over the amendments, to see which amendments we can agree to--and there will be a lot of them that we can.

This is a 6-year bill. We are authorizing for 6 years with 3 years of identified funding.

Our bill authorizes for 6 years something that we call contract authority, which is a mechanism unique to the highway bill in which the Federal Government makes funding commitments of future funding over multiple years. The use of contract authority was created way back in Eisenhower's 1956 Highway Act for a reason, and it exists still today. It has been the cornerstone of highway bills ever since then, giving States and cities long-term certainty to plan their investments over multiple years.

The reason that is important--I used to be in that business many years ago as a contractor for several years--is that you can't have short-term ideas without going back and making years of planning so that you can organize your labor supply, you can organize all of your rentals and everything that would go into a project.

As States begin to break the ground on projects, they match this contract authority with actual cash and are reimbursed from the highway trust fund. So it comes from the highway trust fund, converts to cash, and it goes into contract authority. Unfortunately, up until 2009, the end of SAFETEA-LU--that is when it went in, 2005, and it was a 5-year bill; so it is the end of 2009--this contract authority was always guaranteed by the receipts in the highway trust fund, but we now find ourselves in a situation where the highway trust fund can no longer support current levels of spending as a result of more efficient and electric vehicles.

I have included a mechanism in this bill that will allow Congress to authorize a 6-year transportation bill consistent with how States and locals plan and deliver the projects and then find the necessary offsets to pay the bill.

Currently, Senator Hatch has identified at least 3 years of cuts to the general fund to redirect to the highway trust fund and shore up the differences between what the highway trust fund can support and the DRIVE Act levels of investment.

So in the first 3 years, the States would have a guarantee of at least 3 years of funding so that they could be confident they would be reimbursed on their contract authority.

In the fourth fiscal year of the act, the Secretary will conduct a solvency test to determine the ability to make payments out of the highway trust fund for the remaining 3 years. Keep in mind that this is a 6-year bill. So the remaining 3 years of contract authority would be given to the States.

If the Secretary determines that the balance of either account will dip below $4 billion in a fiscal year for highway account or $1 billion for the mass transit account, then no new projects can be funded from the highway trust fund during that year.

Now, if Congress finds funds to supplement the trust fund during that fiscal year--the fourth year--new projects may begin and be funded, as in the DRIVE Act.

However, it is important to point out that even if the Secretary finds that the trust fund is not able to fund new projects in a fiscal year, during that year the Department can continue to reimburse States for projects that were already under way prior to the end of year 3.

This will ensure that there is not a huge cliff at the end of 3 years, which the DOT, Governors, mayors, and the rest of them tell us will prevent a chilling effect on their willingness to use the first 3 years of funding to engage in large, multiyear bridge and interstate reconstruction projects.

That is another reason, by the way, we want to do a 6-year bill. It allows us to get into all of these bridges and these very large. This chart behind me shows the deficient bridges in America. I talked about 25 or so of these this morning and gave a lot of details, which I will do again because we need to get the attention of the Members of the Senate. They will be very familiar with the problems they have. As the Presiding Officer would be familiar with the problems in South Carolina, each Member is familiar with the bridges and geography in his or her own district.

So it means Congress has 3 years to identify about $50 billion to $60 billion worth of additional receipts into the trust fund to honor years 4, 5, and 6 of contract authority. Under this mechanism, the trust fund will continue to receive user fee revenues for all 6 years of the act, plus 2 years after the act, which has been historically done in these big highway bills.

The mechanism is nothing new, as it is similar to the Army Corps of Engineers Chief's reports on WRDA bills. WRDA is the Water Resources Development Act, where they authorize 5 to 10 years of project authorizations and then Congress finds the money on an annual basis to match the authority, the same as the highway bill. So if they can't find the money, construction doesn't start.

Allowing for multiyear planning is a conservative position because it allows States to engage in long-term contracts and negotiate bigger projects at significantly lower cost. Buying materials in bulk, contractors charge less and finish earlier.

Now, what I would like to do at some point is talk about the transparency and also the Tribal Transportation Program. This is a big bill. There is a lot to talk about.

In fact, I think I will go to the transparency first because we hear a lot about transparency. We hear a lot about the need to be aware, about the need for people to be aware. You have to keep in mind this and the Defense authorization bill are the two largest and most significant bills that are out there. In fact, if you read that old contract that nobody reads anymore--called the Constitution--it says what we are supposed to be doing. It tickles me sometimes when I see liberals standing here wanting to get government into more and more programs, when the Constitution says we are only supposed to be doing two things here: defending America and funding our roads and bridges. That is in article I, section 8 of the Constitution.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that increasing the accountability and improving transparency of the Federal-Aid Highway Program is a key component to the DRIVE Act. I am talking about the act we will be moving to proceed on very shortly, hopefully.

The DRIVE Act includes several provisions to include the transparency of how and where transportation projects are selected and funded, to ensure that stakeholders and the public have faith in the integrity of highway programs and the use of Federal tax dollars.

So they are going to know, if they care--and a lot don't, but the ones who do care, the ones who are watching from a fiscal perspective are going to have that information they can share. The media can have it. You will see articles. I often criticize this administration for their lack of transparency, but you are not going to find any lack of transparency in the DRIVE Act.

The DRIVE Act requires the Transportation Secretary to establish an online platform to report project-level status of the reviews, the approvals, the permits required for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act--that is NEPA--and other Federal laws. This will allow the public to see the status of an ongoing project or to see what is holding up the project.

That is very significant. By the way, it is important to note that on the NEPA requirements there are some waivers. I applaud some of the more liberal members of the committee I chair, including Senator Barbara Boxer, who didn't want to go along with a lot of the provisions that streamline this bill but was willing to do it. So I applaud her for doing that. But this will let the public also have access to that to make sure we are doing what we should be doing. In the NEPA requirements, we can see if we are deviating from that or from any of the other requirement that makes the DRIVE Act something that is going to be one of the most valuable pieces of legislation passed this year.

The DRIVE Act also increases transparency regarding the way in which the Federal Highway Administration utilizes Federal-aid highway funding for administrative expenses. This is accomplished by requiring the Federal Highway Administration to report elemental project-level data each fiscal year. So each year they can have access to that.

The DRIVE Act requires that the Transportation Secretary publish all reports submitted to Congress by the Department in order to increase transparency and oversight by Congress and by the public.

Now, these improved transparency provisions will provide to the public better accountability of how the Federal Highway Administration is utilizing its funds. It will also demonstrate how the agency is making progress toward achieving national goals and improving Federal reviews of the highway projects. So we have the transparency built in, but that was one of the requirements we on the conservative side demanded when we put this bill together.

Since we have these charts--and I apologize to those who had to sit through this a couple hours ago, but we have a whole different crowd out there now, and we have our Members, many of them are paying attention to what we are doing since they are going to be called upon to vote in just a matter of a few minutes. On this chart, it shows the dark colors being the ones that have the majority of the structurally deficient bridges. It is on there by county.

I would call attention to my State of Oklahoma because one-quarter of our State is in that high category of deficiencies. If you look at other States--I was talking a few minutes ago to Senator Blunt from Missouri and he was talking about their deficient bridges. I commented that we actually have more deficient bridges but only by a few. So we are kind of in a comparable situation, but this gives an idea of how widespread this is.

Let's go over some of these bridges. In my home State of Oklahoma, we have 2 of the top 10 worst districts by number of deficient bridges.

Frank Lucas is a Congressman from Oklahoma. He just came out from being the chairman of the Agriculture Committee over in the House of Representatives. In his district alone, there are over 2,000 deficient bridges. He has a lot of small bridges because he has the rural areas of Oklahoma, where there aren't many people, but there is a lot of land. So certainly we have a problem. In Congressman Markwayne Mullin's district there are over 1,000 deficient bridges. Our Oklahoma Department of Transportation is working tirelessly to address bridge safety, but they need the long-term provisions in here to take care of that particular problem.

A bridge collapse or closure brings significant and sudden economic impact. I think we all remember in Minnesota in 2007 the bridge that came down. It was very graphic. It was on all the TV channels, with the ambulances, the people, the injuries, and the deaths. People were rightly concerned about that tragic collapse. That was in Minnesota. It is called the I-35W bridge collapse from 2007. Look at that. You can see that is a death trap, and that is exactly what happened.

The Skagit River Bridge collapse. That is I-5 in Washington State. It had similar effects on the local economy, with an estimated impact of $8.3 million during the 26-day closure.

The Brent Spence Bridge. This is a big one. This is the one that goes between Ohio and Kentucky. It is one that carries a huge amount of traffic. You can see just by looking at how old this bridge is how structurally deficient the bridge is. You can visibly see that.

Our Members in Ohio, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, and in Kentucky, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, are very familiar with this. I think this really brings it home, to show these bridges to the public, because they have to live with them on a daily basis. This bridge is functionally obsolete. Built in 1963, the bridge is more than 50 years old and was designed to carry 85,000 cars a day, but by 2025 it is expected to carry 200,000 cars a day.

According to the American Transportation Research Institute, the Brent Spence Bridge is the fourth most congested truck point on the U.S. infrastructure grid. The cost in congestion is staggering when you consider the $420 billion of freight to cross the bridge every year.

Freight haulers bear the brunt of the congestion costs. Delays associated with just traveling across the bridge costs a trucker almost $40 during a rush hour.

In the aggregate, the delays on the bridge cost travelers over $750 million a year in wasted time and fuel.

Keep in mind, if you have congestion on bridges, cars stop, trucks stop, and they pollute the air. Their exhaust continues to go, their engines are still running, the efficiency of their vehicles goes down, and it is very expensive. Each year, 1.6 million gallons of fuel are wasted due to congestion on this one bridge. There are 3.6 million hours spent in traffic on the bridge each year.

This is just one bridge we are talking about. In 2011, chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck down to the lower deck of the bridge. What is most alarming is that motorists who use this bridge are five times more likely to get into an accident on this segment of the interstate than any other part of the interstate in Kentucky.

You will see some bridges where they have actually built another bridge under the bridge to catch the falling debris, the falling concrete.

This is the Mobile River Bridge in Alabama. Certainly, Senator Sessions and Senator Shelby are very sensitive to this. It is a bridge that has been a problem for quite some time. It was constructed in the 1970s. The tunnel was to offer some relief from the bridge.

Traffic currently is carried through the George C. Wallace Tunnel, the I-10 crossing under this bridge we are looking at in Alabama. That tunnel was designed with an anticipated daily traffic count of 36,000. Currently, the tunnel averages approximately 80,000 vehicles a day. It can reach as much as 100,000 vehicles in peak season. The traffic volume causes heavy congestion and longer travel times for commercial and noncommercial drivers throughout the region and the rest of the Nation. This right here, incidentally, is what it will look like after the improvements are made. This is what it is today.

(Mr. Toomey assumed the Chair.)

I was hoping we had the Pennsylvania chart because the new occupier of the chair would certainly be interested in that, I would think.

The Arlington Memorial Bridge. We are all familiar with that. That connects Washington, DC, and Virginia.

Senator Warner and Senator Kaine travel this bridge on probably a daily basis. This was built in 1932. The Arlington Memorial Bridge is well beyond its design life and is structurally deficient. The bridge serves as a significant part of the National Highway System, a major evacuation route, and carries more than 68,000 vehicles each day. It is crowded and congested almost all the time--at least it is every day I go across.

My staff tells me this bridge is on the local news on a regular basis due to the progressive deterioration that has taken place. The government has had to conduct emergency lane closures and enforce a load limit. Repair work would take 6 to 9 months.

Then we have the I-264 bridge over Lynnhaven Parkway that carries traffic to Virginia Beach, which is down south of where we are right now. It is structurally deficient. We see the chart--it is one of the 10 most heavily traveled deficient bridges in the State of Virginia, and it carries just under 134,000 cars a day.

The next one is in the State of Washington. I always comment when I see this. It is called the Magnolia Bridge; it is too far north for magnolia trees. Anyway, it was built in about 1929. The bridge carries over 18,000 cars a day and is structurally deficient. While the bridge is in a residential area and on the community's radar, it hasn't received the necessary funding to reconstruct the 86-year-old bridge.

Greenfield Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA--I imagine the Chair is familiar with this.

Pennsylvania has the most structurally deficient bridges in the country, and this is one of them. Let me repeat that. The State of Pennsylvania has the most structurally deficient bridges in the entire Nation.

This was built in 1921. It now carries 7,700 cars a day. A 10-inch chunk of concrete went through a car windshield in 2003, injuring the driver. Later that year, the city spent $652,000 to build a temporary bridge to catch whatever came through the nets. So they have a bridge under a bridge. They had to build another bridge to catch whatever falls off of this bridge. This structurally deficient bridge has been crumbling for decades. In order to protect drivers on the busy highway below, nets and platforms were constructed to catch falling debris.

On a similar note, we had a tragic incident in Oklahoma involving falling debris from a bridge. A lady and her children in a car were driving below it, and a chunk of concrete fell off and killed the mother.

Again, I will repeat what I said: Pennsylvania has the most structurally deficient bridges in the entire Nation, and that is just one of them.

The Court Avenue Bridge in Des Moines, where I was born--talk about an old bridge. This was actually built before I was born, in 1918. It now carries 3,900 cars a day.

Iowa has the second most structurally deficient bridges in the country, second only to Pennsylvania. While the State recently increased the gas tax, it will still require Federal partnership to do something about this famous bridge.

I-95. Going from Washington to New York or anyplace up north, you go on I-95. It is a very heavily traveled highway.

This is the Brandywine Bridge in Wilmington. You go right over this bridge on I-95. It is 50 years old. The bridge deck is deteriorating. The viaduct, which carries travelers from I-95 through Wilmington, has experienced serious concrete corrosion. The problem is this bridge was designed for a fraction of the travel that it now has because this is the main artery going up the east coast of the United States. It has cracks and swells. I have actually personally seen this bridge.

The Chef Menteur Pass Bridge in New Orleans, LA, was built in 1930 and carries 1,800 cars a day across Highway 90.

The Cesar Chavez Boulevard Bridge in San Francisco was built in 1951. It carries 234,000 cars a day. It is one of the oldest bridges on the west coast.

The I-30 in Little Rock--getting close to my State of Oklahoma. Tom Cotton and John Boozman are most interested in this bridge. It is structurally deficient. It was built in 1961 to carry traffic over railroad tracks, 116,000 cars a day. And Arkansas is delaying projects because of uncertainty at the Federal level, so they are currently discussing gap financing for the I-30 project.

The Storrow Drive Bridge in Boston--I know Senators Warner and Markey are very concerned about this. Built in 1951, this structurally deficient bridge carries 57,770 cars per day. The Storrow Drive Bridge earned its structurally deficient rating because of the corroding support beams that support one of many highly trafficked bridges in the Nation. Numerous costly interim repairs over the years have kept the artery open, but they are merely stopgaps until a longer term solution can be reached.

New Jersey, U.S. Highway 1 over the Passaic River. Herbert Hoover was President when this bridge was built in 1932, with an estimated design volume of 5,500 vehicles a day.

I am going to skip down to the Brooklyn Bridge. This bridge was actually built in 1883. It is structurally deficient. Of course we know the number of cars that go over that. That was built in 1883. That is one that I dare say arguably everyone here has driven over, and every time you do, you wonder if you are going to get to the other side.

The other comparable bridge is the San Francisco Bay Bridge, which was built in 1936. The bridge is now functionally obsolete. Here is the concern about the bridge. A lot of smart people are saying this bridge, because of all the earthquakes out there, could collapse. Anyone who drives over is thinking: Is this going to be the time it takes place?

I talked to Roy Blunt a few minutes ago. He was talking about the bridges in Missouri. The next chart I will show is from there. For some reason, Missouri and Oklahoma are two of the worst States in terms of the conditions of bridges, and we are both concerned about that. That is something people have to keep in mind.

I know others want to come down and get some time, but we are going to be talking about these, about the major projects.

What is unique about the bridges is we can't ensure the stability and safety of our bridges on short-term extensions. That is why we have gone since 2009 with 33 short-term extensions and many of these bridges have had no attention. The only way we are going to correct that problem is to do it with this DRIVE Act. Hopefully we will have the vote to advance that bill, and hopefully we will be able to get it through.

I want to repeat what I started off with. I don't criticize the Democrats who voted against the motion to proceed yesterday because they requested information and didn't get the information until 30 minutes before the vote took place. Even my counterpart on the left, Barbara Boxer, voted against it at that time. I think most of those individuals should be supportive of this, certainly after seeing the bridges and construction that is necessary in their States. I am confident they will.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

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