Press conferences and politicos: Rosenker, Pawlenty, Peters, Coleman, Klobuchar, Tinklenberg, Oberstar


Klobuchar: “A bridge in America just shouldn’t fall down.”

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Mark Rosenker revealed this morning that a video of the I-35W bridge collapse is being examined by investigators. Rosenker said the video would be taken back to Minneapolis and digitally enhanced. The video was shot from a nearby dam on the Mississippi river.

Other highlights below:

* Minnesota Governor Pawlenty responds to questions about a 2005 inspection that showed the bridge was “structurally deficient”.
* His pledge to immediately inspect other bridges of this type in Minnesota.
* Emergency federal funding for cleanup, traffic control and rebuilding.
* Former MN Transportation Director says we’re starting to see the effects of budget shortfalls on infrastructure.

Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters has announced the federal government has made $5 million available immediately to deal with traffic problems and start rebuilding.

Senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota say they are working to get more federal funding freed up for the rebuilding.

“This is a reminder that we need funding to keep our bridges safe”, said Klobuchar.

“A bridge in America just shouldn’t fall down”, said Klobuchar “[this] investigation will take time. We need to get to the bottom of this”

“This investigation has already begun” said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker. “This will be a complex investigation.” Rosenker said the NTSB will want to recover pieces and reassemble them so they can understand what caused the bridge to collapse.

Reporters asked Peters and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty about the bridges “structurally deficient” rating of 50. Peters said the rating was “no means an indication this bridge is not safe” and that if it was unsafe Governor Pawlenty would have shut it down. Pawlenty said when the inspections that were done in 2005 and 2006 there was “no call by anyone” to close the bridge. Pawlenty also said there was a partial inspection of the bridge done in 2007 and it was scheduled to be completed in September after the construction was finished.

Pawlenty open to special session
Governor Tim Pawlenty today said he is is open to all options to solve Minnesota’s transportation and infrastructure problems including a special session of the legislature. Previously the Governor had been very cool to the idea of calling lawmakers back into session. He vetoed the transportation bill the legislature passed because it included a 5 cent a gallon gas tax.

Pawlenty indicated that even if he had signed the 2007 transportation bill or the 2006 transportation bill which he also vetoed the I-35W bridge would not have been replaced.

Pawlenty said the state will “immediately check all bridges of this design”. He was not sure how many bridges that might be.

NTSB Chair Mark Rosenker also revealed that a video of the collapse exists and was shot from the nearby dam. The video will be taken back to Washington, DC and digitally enhanced. He said they are also asking for any one else with video of the collapse to contact the NTSB.

After the news conference former Minnesota Transportation Director Elwyn Tinklenberg said “We’re starting to see the effects of shortfalls in our budgets” and noted there was a “tremendous demand” for highway and other infrastructure dollars.

Congressman Jim Oberstar will introduce legislation today to direct at least $250 million to the State of Minnesota to deal with the replacement of the I-35W bridge that collapsed yesterday.

After today’s mark up the Oberstar will attempt to bring the bill to the House Floor for passage today. “I am hopeful we can get this to the Senate in time for them to pass it before the August recess begins,” said Oberstar.

Oberstar says this tragedy underscores the critical need to continue aggressively investing in our nation’s transportation infrastructure. There are 585,000 federal highway aid bridges in the United States. Up to 30 percent of them are structurally deficient to some degree. However, 70% of the nation’s traffic travels over just 547 bridges across the country every day.