Rep. Rahall to LaHood: Speed up new bridge inspection standards

June 12, 2013

A view of the collapsed I-5 bridge. Rick Lund / Seattle Times via AP

The bridge collapse in Washington state last month has focused attention on a topic that isn’t always considered sexy: the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.), the ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday urged Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to quickly to implement new laws that would update standards for bridge inspections and ensure that those who conduct the inspections are qualified and well trained. The legislation gave DOT three years to put new standards in place, but Rahall asked LaHood to move faster.

A 2011 report by the group Transportation for America found that 215 bridges  in the Washington, D.C. region alone, are structurally deficient, including three of the five major bridges that cross the Potomac River into the District.

Yet getting lawmakers and the public to spend the money to fix the nation’s aging bridges, sewer systems, airports, ports and more, has been a difficult sell.

“If any bridge is unsafe, we immediately take it out of service,” LaHood told The Post’s Ashley Halsey last year. “However, it’s no secret that many aging bridges across the country are in need of repair or replacement, and there simply isn’t enough money in Washington to fund them all.”

Investigators do not yet know the cause of the I-5 bridge collapse, which sent three vehicles into the water but resulted in only minor injuries. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the collapse this week.

Rahall noted that many of the heightened bridge safety standards came in the wake of the 2007 collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minnesota, which claimed 13 lives.

“Replacement of these bridges will take time and money,” Rahall said. “We should be investing both, but in the interim we must move quickly to put in place the safety standards that can help avert future catastrophes and save lives.”

Here’s a copy of Rahall’s letter.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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Mark Berman · June 12, 2013