Until I-35W Disaster, Democrat Oberstar's Funding Focus Wasn't On Bridges
By Katherine Kersten
In the wake of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, DFL leaders want to raise the state gas tax to fund transportation needs.
At the same time, Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar -- the powerful chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- has called for a "temporary" 5-cent increase in the federal gas tax to raise what he says is a critically needed $25 billion over three years for a national bridge-repair trust fund.
"If you're not prepared to invest another five cents in bridge reconstruction and road reconstruction, then God help you," he said after the bridge collapse.
Polls suggest that ordinary folks aren't convinced of a divine mandate for higher taxes. Most likely, they're skeptical about how our pols are stewarding current transportation funds.
Oberstar is Exhibit A. He's long been well-positioned to help steer funds toward bridge safety, and has known of the seriousness of the problem since he held hearings on bridge conditions 20 years ago, he says. But he's had other priorities.
For example, on July 25 -- a week before the bridge collapse -- Oberstar issued a press release announcing his latest coup for Minnesota.
He had obtained more than $12 million for his home state in a recently passed House transportation and housing bill. Commuter rail was the big winner, getting $10 million. The Cambridge-Isanti Bike/Walk Trail got $250,000, and the KidsPeace Mesabi Academy in Buhl got $150,000. Only $2 million went for meat-and-potatoes road improvements.
Not a penny was slated for bridge repair.