SEATTLE — Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced Thursday that the federal government will pony up almost $16 million for both the temporary and permanent repairs to the collapsed Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River.
Murray says the collapse should be a “wake-up call” for us all. “We can’t take our transportation infrastructure for granted, because like everything else, it just doesn’t last forever,” Murray said.
Her announcement about the federal money came at a transportation hearing she chaired in Washington, D.C., titled, “Our Crumbling Infrastructure.”
While many in the state take the Skagit River collapse as a reason to take a good, hard look at Washington’s aging roads and bridges, Murray’s concern is much wider. She’s using the occasion to inspect the entire country’s roads and bridges, which, she said, are starved of funds.
“We aren’t really saving any money at all,” she said. “We’re actually making things worse. We’re stifling economic growth, we’re putting public safety at risk, and congestion is taxing family’s time with painfully long commutes and causing health-threatening pollution.”
A new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S. a “D” when it comes to maintaining roads and a “C+” for bridges.
Indeed, when it comes to bridges, the facts are pretty startling:
- The average age of a bridge in the U.S. is 42 years old
- 70,000 of them across the country listed as structurally deficient.
- The expected replacement cost of those on that list: $240 billion.
Murray noted that the primary source of funds for the nation’s roads and bridges is the federal gas tax, which just isn’t doing the job. Right now it’s 18.5 cents a gallon, unchanged since 1993, 20 years ago. Because of inflation, its purchasing power has gone down as the price of road construction and repairs have gone up.
Murray says she is going to look at ways to find additional money to help with the problem. Ideas that were talked about at the hearing included increasing the current gas tax (or perhaps indexing it to inflation); creating a vehicle miles traveled tax; and adding more tolls to the nation’s roadways, something that drivers seem more and more accept.
But there is push back to any plan to increase taxes for transportation. Many Republicans say the answer is squeezing more efficiencies out of government as opposed to squeezing more money out of taxpayers.