Bipartisan mayors say train crash is a dire warning

The Tuesday night Amtrak crash in Pennsylvania should serve as a "wake up call" to Congress as it nears a deadline to renew infrastructure funding, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

De Blasio and several other Democratic and Republican mayors were in Washington to pressure Congress to pass a six-year transportation bill that would increase infrastructure investments from the current level of $50 billion a year.

"It's a painful coincidence we stand here hours after this crash," de Blasio said. The tragedy, which killed seven people is "a reminder of how much we depend on our mass transit, how much we depend on our roads and bridges."

The other mayors warned that such tragedies will continue if Congress shortchanges transportation funding.

"Lives are lost and productivity is lessened because of an inadequate system of infrastructure," said Mick Cornett, the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, a Democrat, recalled the day in 2007 when a bridged collapsed in her city, leaving 13 dead and 145 injured.

"Bridges don't just fall down in America -- except now they do," she said.

"The infrastructure in America needs investment, or it will fall apart at the seams," she continued. "There's the opportunity in Congress to make that decision, or this will happen again and again and again. There will be lives lost again and again."

Falling apart: America's neglected infrastructure

At the end of the month, existing transportation funding is set to expire. The mayors in Washington want to see Congress renew the funding for another six years. Congress typically funded the measure in six-year cycles, but since 2009 it has passed shorter-term measures.

"We need a long-term transportation bill," de Blasio said, not one that funds infrastructure "hand-to-mouth, year-to-year."

Road maintenance and repairs are funded through the Highway Trust Fund, which imposes a gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. However, that tax rate hasn't been raised in 22 years, while construction costs have gone up and more fuel-efficient cars have hit the road.

"The end of this month will be a decisive one for this nation when the Highway Trust Fund will either run out or move forward," de Blasio said.

The mayors noted that the train crash seems to have occurred because the train was traveling at high speeds. They also noted that Amtrak funding is a separate issue from the Highway Trust Fund. Still, de Blasio said, the crash was a "reminder of how vital our infrastructure is to our health and safety."

The mayors also stressed that leaders from both sides of the aisle are calling on Congress to bolster transportation funding.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, a Democrat, noted that Utah's state legislature this year raised the state gas tax and passed another bill giving municipalities the option of raising sales taxes for transit needs.

"If a state like Utah, which is as conservative as any state in the country and faces the same dynamics here in Congress, can step up to the plate and make the investments we know we need for the future, Congress should be able to do it, too," he said.