The bill was passed by Congress over the weekend in the waning hours of its work before an August recess. Bush visited the stricken site on Saturday.
The legislation waives the $100 million federal limit per state for emergency relief funds, authorizing $250 million for rebuilding the bridge. The money itself still needs to be appropriated by Congress in future legislation.
The bill allows for some of the money to be used to reimburse Minnesota for additional public transportation costs incurred as a result of the bridge’s collapse.
Federal officials have announced that $5 million would be released to help with efforts such as rerouting traffic around the disaster site.
Federal money for emergency reconstruction of the bridge is primarily meant for replacement of what was lost, along with some reasonable accommodation for increased traffic, said Bob McFarlin, spokesman for Minnesota’s transportation department.
So if the state wants to include some upgrades — like another exit for downtown, better access to the University of Minnesota campus, and features that would make it a landmark showpiece — it may have to pay for them itself.
'Deeply within our souls'
The Interstate 35W bridge plummeted more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River last Wednesday. Five people are confirmed dead and search crews continue their efforts.
"All of us are struck, deeply within our souls" by the collapse, said Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who chairs the House Transportation Committee, before the House unanimously passed the legislation.
The committee's former chairman, Alaska Republican Don Young, noted that he had sought $375 billion in the last six-year transportation bill, but Congress had to settle for about $90 billion less because of opposition from the Bush administration
"I don't do this often when I say 'I told you so,'" said Young, suggesting that Congress pass a tax to help rebuild bridges so that people don't face a "potential death threat."
"Yes, fund this problem with a tax," he said. "May the sky not fall on me."
Other lawmakers also called for more funding for transportation.
Bipartisan support hailed
The local congressman, Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, praised the bipartisan response, saying, "Even though we have strong differences of opinion, when tragedy strikes America, we have no Democrats, we have no Republicans."
Oberstar pushed the bill through his committee on Thursday. The state's other seven members all signed on as co-sponsors, and its two senators, Coleman and Democrat Amy Klobuchar, introduced companion legislation.
"This is a difficult time for the community in Minneapolis, but the people there are decent and resilient, and they will get through these painful hours," he said in the prepared remarks. "As they do, they know that all of America stands with them, and that we will do all we can to help them recover and rebuild."
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