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Oberstar says infrastructure funding needed

U.S Rep Jim Oberstar was on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives when he got an e-mail on his BlackBerry, informing him that the Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River had collapsed.

Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has been a vocal critic of what he sees as paltry funding for infrastructure.

"I have repeatedly said our infrastructure needs are greater than our investment," he told the News Tribune Wednesday night. "[The bridge's collapse] underscores the urgency of investing in our infrastructure."

Oberstar said he had not heard of the bridge having any flaws. "We had not had any communication from MnDOT that there was any structural deficiency with the bridge," he said.

Oberstar said an investigative unit from the National Transportation Safety Board will begin examining what caused the collapse this morning. For now, he doesn't plan to call for investigation beyond the NTSB's findings.

"The NTSB is very thorough, very skilled," he said. "We'll receive their report and make further determination for that. It would be pre-judging their investigation to hold hearings on that."

Oberstar doesn't currently have plans to visit the Twin Cities. He said he wants to let emergency crews do their job as he seeks emergency funding to replace the bridge.

"That bridge needs to be rebuilt," he said.

Early Wednesday night, Oberstar apprised his colleagues of the situation. "This is a tragic occurrence and I make that observation ... as an indication of how important it is for us to continue our vigilance on the integrity and condition of the nation's traveled roadways," he said.