LYNN NEARY, host:
Just hours before the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis, two U.S. senators had introduced a measure that recognize the dangers of the country's ageing infrastructure. Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska called for the creation of an independent national bank that would evaluate bridges, roads, even water treatment plants and then prioritize and finance repairs.
Senator Hagel is on the line with us from his office here in Washington now. Thanks for being with us, Senator.
Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): Thank you, Lynn.
NEARY: Senator, the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis is just the latest evidence that America's infrastructure is in deep trouble. How serious is the problem?
Sen. HAGEL: The problem is very serious. And when you start to really focus on an analysis done by some of the leading institutions in regulatory agencies in our country like the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, you really start to understand the depth of this problem. The numbers - 160,000 bridges in this country today are in need of either immediate repair or maintenance, or some amount of it in order to head off this kind of disasters that we saw occur in Minnesota. And it's not just bridges; it's roads, of course, it's drinking water system, it's waste water systems - it's out entire framework of infrastructure in this country that's aging and is going to require a tremendous amount of founding to maintain it. And that does not even include what we're going to need to enhance our infrastructure to keep us not only safe but productive Americans.
NEARY: Now, as I understand it, the legislation would call for the establishment of an infrastructure bank. I wonder if you could explain how that would work.
Sen. HAGEL: Yes. What this would do is give us an institution whose primary purpose would be to help provide and arrange funding for a large infrastructure projects of regional and national significance. It would be financed as a result of this bank having the authority to issue up to $60 billion in tax credit bonds. These bonds would not pay interest. Instead, they would give the bondholders tax credits that they could apply against future tax bills. The proceeds of the bonds would be exempt from taxation that I think it's a good example of how a public-private partnership can work for everyone's interest.
NEARY: And who would make the decisions about prioritizing? And how would you ensure that there wouldn't be any pressure to - from one state to get their work done over another state, that kind of thing?
Sen. HAGEL: What we have done in the legislation is set up a management structure and accountability structure, which would start with five directors of the bank, which would be presidential appointees. And the Congress would not be involved in any of the day-to-day decisions on where the bank would put its resources. But that's one issue that we focused on so they would not be caught in the web of prioritizing based on the influence of any one particular state or one particular politician.
NEARY: Sadly, it would seem that this tragedy in Minneapolis may give some impetus to your idea and maybe to other proposals that may be circulating soon on the Hill regarding the nation's infrastructure.
Sen. HAGEL: Yes. Unfortunately, tragedy always puts a new focus in urgency to whatever the issue is and will have some motivational factor on may be forcing us all to deal with this a lot sooner than we might have otherwise.
NEARY: Senator Chuck Hagel is a Republican from Nebraska. Senator Hagel, thanks so much for joining us.
Sen. HAGEL: Thank you, Lynn.