Norm Coleman: When politics take a back seat, Congress can get things done

  • Article by: NORM COLEMAN
  • Updated: February 4, 2008 - 6:07 PM

The six months since the I-35W bridge collapse show what can get accomplished through bipartisanship efforts.

It's been six months since the eyes of the world descended upon Minnesota during one of the most shocking and painful chapters in our history. Aug. 1, 2007, the day of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, is a day none of us will ever forget.

The images of the collapse and its aftermath are still fresh in the minds of everyone in our state. From the everyday citizens who ran toward rather than away from the danger, to the rescue teams and local officials who provided leadership on the ground, we showed the world what it means to be a Minnesotan.

Visiting the site in the aftermath of the dramatic collapse, it was difficult to absorb the magnitude of the disaster. As Minnesotans, we prayed for the victims and their families. As public officials, we sought answers to how such a tragedy could have occurred in our country. And we vowed to rebuild, and to do it quickly.

It's easy to talk about working together across the aisle to get things done. Following through on those promises is usually another story -- especially in the politically charged season of presidential politics. While it's not realistic to agree on every issue, it's a fact that the bipartisan efforts on the bridge have led to the largest and fastest federal response to a transportation emergency in the history of this country.

Looking back at the six months since the bridge fell, it's amazing to see how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit. Congress authorized federal emergency funding for the project and pushed the U.S. Department of Transportation to get money out the door as quickly as possible. Our delegation worked with our colleagues in Congress to appropriate the final $195 million to cover the full cost of reconstruction with federal dollars -- $373 million in all. We urged quick turnarounds for local transit solutions resulting in a $133 million Urban Partnerships project for Minneapolis and the final approval of the Northstar Commuter Rail Line. We initiated a review of the federal bridge program by the Government Accountability Office and won Senate approval of a National Infrastructure Commission. In short, we put aside partisan differences and acted in the best interest of Minnesotans.

And it worked. The federal dollars are in the bank and ready to be spent. For the skeptics and critics, these six months of cooperation should serve as a model of what government can achieve when all of us work together for the same goal.

The bridge collapse was a terrible tragedy, one of the most difficult days in our memory. But now, six months later, despite the bitter weather that's hit us this winter, construction of the new I-35W bridge is reportedly on schedule for completion by Christmas. When the ribbon is cut on the new bridge, with so many folks having come together to make this happen, it will be one of our proudest days.

Norm Coleman, R-Minn., is a member of the U.S. Senate.

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