Congress is expected to give final approval today to $250 million to rebuild the fallen Interstate 35W bridge. "We are all united as one," said Rep. Jim Oberstar.
WASHINGTON -- Congress is expected to put the finishing touches today on a $250 million emergency relief package to rebuild the crumpled Interstate 35W bridge.
Two days after the catastrophic bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the U.S. House and Senate unanimously approved separate relief measures Friday, requiring a new House vote to resolve minor differences.
"It's a technical issue," said John Schadl, a spokesman for House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who authored the emergency aid. "It's not a deal-breaker in any way."
House passage came less than 48 hours after the accident. Several hours later, the Senate passed its version, adding a $5 million transit fund to overcome the objections of some Republicans concerned about the use of highway funds for mass transit purposes during the recovery period.
Members of the Minnesota delegation, who rallied around Oberstar's bill, found themselves in a race against time to have the House approve the Senate measure today before lawmakers leave for their August recess.
President Bush, who is traveling to the accident site today, gave his support to the funding request, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.
"We are all united as one," Oberstar said. "All of us were struck deeply within our souls."
In a series of emotional speeches, Minnesota lawmakers of both parties pleaded for a unified show of support from their colleagues around the nation.
"Minnesota needs the help and prayers of all Americans," said Republican freshman Michele Bachmann. "Republicans, Democrats, we're all Americans."
Depending on the new design, replacement of the eight-lane, 1,900-foot span could easily cost upward of $200 million, according to Charles Roeder, a civil engineer from the University of Washington, an expert on bridges. That figure would not include the cost of cleaning up and investigating the catastrophic collapse of the 35W bridge, he said.
Both I-35W spending bills would waive a $100 million per-incident cap on emergency relief funds, paving the way for Minnesota officials to get immediate access to federal dollars. Under the current highway program, all relief construction within 180 days of a disaster is covered by the federal government.
Peters, who announced a $5 million grant to the state on Thursday, said that the federal government has as much as $190 million in a special relief fund that could be distributed to Minnesota and other states.