For the survivors of the tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota and for the families and friends of those who perished when that bridge plunged 60 feet down into the Mississippi River, that day will not soon be forgotten. But, there are lessons to be learned and remembered for us all, particularly for Congress, if we are to avoid future tragedies like this one.
For one, we must ask to what extent did the epidemic spread of pork barrel spending over the years squeeze out the federal funding that has been needed for truly necessary national infrastructure projects.
Not only are we not addressing this question, learning from past mistakes, but the emerging trend appears to be to piggyback on this tragedy as justification for increasing federal spending and even increasing federal gas taxes. Far too many Members of Congress have seized on this human tragedy to call for more money out of taxpayer pockets instead of exercising their own restraint in packing federal funding bills with personal pork barrel.
In the wake of the bridge collapse, the U.S. Department of Transportation made $5 million in federal funding immediately available to the State of Minnesota. The State has as much as $2 million available in its reserve highway fund, as well. In addition, Congress passed legislation to waive caps on emergency relief funds that could be appropriated to rebuild the bridge, allowing for as much as $5 million in federal funds to be spent on this bridge alone.
I supported that bill. Had I been given the opportunity by the Democrat leadership that pushed it through without opportunity for amendment or much debate, I would have preferred changes to that bill. For instance, I would have preferred that Congress not waive the state and local funding share. But prompt action to at least provide flexibility in meeting this tragedy was the responsible response from Congress.
That said, on the very day that Congress passed this emergency measure to rebuild the Minneapolis bridge, it also passed a bill making “technical corrections” to the massive $287 billion transportation authorization bill passed in 2005. The Chairman of the Transportation Committee, who also authored the emergency bridge legislation, announced in a press release that this “technical corrections” bill made more than $11 million in funding available for projects in his Minnesota district. This included nearly $2.3 million for upgrades to Elizabeth Avenue in Coleraine, Minnesota, a town of about 1,100 people between Duluth and Fargo.