Members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation sent a strongly worded letter Monday to Gov. Tim Pawlenty urging his administration to apply for emergency funds for the 35W bridge collapse — funds that could quickly disappear.
Reps. Jim Oberstar, Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Tim Walz, and Keith Ellison criticized the Pawlenty administration’s slow response in applying for several streams of funding for disaster relief, reimbursements for the Metropolitan Council, and the rebuilding of the bridge.
Oberstar was very critical of the lack of action by the administration. “The legislature gave him a bill that would have made sound investments in our transportation system; he vetoed it. When the I-35W bridge collapsed, he could have called a special session to deal with the crisis and look to our transportation needs, but he didn’t,” Oberstar said in a press release Monday. “Now he is failing to ask for money that the state is entitled to; this is incompetence and an abrogation of his responsibility to the people of Minnesota.”
The funding that the Congress members say is available includes $55 million from the Federal Highway Adminstration’s Emergency Relief program specifically set aside for Minnesota, and $5 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to offset increased public transit operations.
“Although these funds were made available to Minnesota in early August, we are surprised to learn that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has not sought reimbursement for any of the $60 million of Federal Emergency Relief and public transit funds which are set aside for the bridge project,” the letter said.
In addition, the Congress members charge that the Pawlenty administration has also been lax in seeking funds from the FHWA relief fund which has $175 million immediately available Oct. 1 without the need for appropriations. Several states have already requested $54 million and FHWA is expecting another $157 million in requests.
“If the state does not make a timely submission for Emergency Relief funds, these funds could be allocated to other states prior to Minnesota’s submission,” the letter said. “Continued delay by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in seeking these funds could jeopardize Minnesota’s ability to receive timely reimbursement.”
The letter also criticizes Pawlenty’s decision to ask the legislature to release $195 million of state funds for the bridge reconstruction after the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced the rebuild would cost close to $400 million, about $150 million more than the initial estimate of $250 million appropriated by Congress in the immediate aftermath of the collapse. MNDOT said last week that it may need to delay other transportation projects to cover the costs of the bridge rebuild.
The letter states: “Trunk highway funds intended for other MNDOT projects should not be diverted to make up-front progress payments to the contractor for the I-35W bridge reconstruction.”
Also at issue is the $250 million appropriated by Congress in the days after the collapse. The letter states that the Pawlenty administration has not requested those funds either.