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Roads to Ruin: Why America Is Falling Apart

Aired August 1, 2008 - 20:00   ET


Think about this. Americans spent four billion hours stuck in traffic last year -- four billion hours. And, at $4 a gallon, that means it cost us $12 billion on gas to go nowhere. We got your attention?

Well, tonight, an ELECTION CENTER special investigation, "Roads to Ruin: Why America Is Falling Apart."

No matter where you live, the roads you drive on, the bridges you cross are a mess. In every state, there are literally hundreds, in many cases, thousands, of bridges that have structural problems or they're just falling apart.

The next stat will also get your attention. Of the 600,000 bridges in this country, one out of every four needs to be repaired or even replaced. The price tag is at least $140 billion, and it is going up.

This breakdown makes the U.S. less competitive around the world. We pay for this mess in ways we are going to talk about here tonight. But, of course, it can also cost lives. One year ago, August 1, 2007, there was absolutely no warning when the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed -- 13 people died there -- 145 were injured.

This is no exaggeration. The next spectacular collapse could be a bridge you're on.

Joining me exclusively tonight, three public officials with lots of roads and bridges to worry about, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a registered independent.

Earlier, I asked each of them to tell me about the nightmare scenario that keeps them up at night and worrying about this problem.

Here's what they told me.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Well, the nightmare in New York and for this country is that we're not going to have an economy, we're not going to have the moneys we need to improve education and do all of those things. Infrastructure is not really about collapsing bridges. We will fix the bridges. Infrastructure is about not having the stuff you need to have an economy, to have a society, to let people get around, get an education, go on vacation, get medical care, to grow and to be competitive with the rest of the world.

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Look, the mayor is right. Economic competitiveness in the long run is the reason we must do this, but there's also a public safety component.

We have 6,000 structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania, about 26 percent of our bridges. Our bridges average 50 years of age. They have got to be repaired. Unless there's real federal involvement in a massive infrastructure repair program, like all of the G-7 and developed nations have done, not only will we become a third rate economic power, but public safety and our quality of life are going to be in danger as well.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Our infrastructure is outdated, and it needs to get -- it needs better upkeep by the federal government. And I think that we will have problems, like the Minnesota bridge, or like Katrina in New Orleans, when our levees collapsed, and did not hold up the pressure of the water.

All of those things will happen, and it will continue to happen. And I think that it is very important for the federal government to recognize that they have fallen behind and that it is really, I think, unfair to the people. They're paying their taxes. They do the hard work, and they're not getting the services and the kind of upkeep they deserve. And, here, a lot of lives are getting lost because of that.


BROWN: This country has lot of bridges, nearly 600,000. So, you can see how big a problem this is.

Randi Kaye is in Minneapolis with an eye-opening look at a threat that is literally ride under our feet -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, the bridge that fell here in Minneapolis was about 40 years old.

The average age of a bridge in this country is 43. Our highways are about 50 years old. And, just like the rest of us, when you get to 40 or 50 or 60, you need a little repair, a little tinkering. Well, the problem is, where is that money going to come from?


KAYE (voice-over): Today, we're thinking about the scene on this busy bridge a year ago, rush hour in Minneapolis, when, suddenly, the Interstate 35W bridge over the mighty Mississippi collapsed.

CALLER: There's hundreds of cars down in the river. Bring everything you have got. I'm not kidding.

OPERATOR: OK, sir. We're getting them started, OK?

KAYE: Before it was over, 13 were dead, more than 100 injured.

We're thinking about it because, we wonder, did we learn anything? Can it happen again? Yes. Perhaps it's even likely. The Federal Highway Administration reported in 2006 one-quarter of the nation's nearly 600,000 bridges were at risk.

Ryan Toohey is with America Moving Forward, which supports private investment in the nation's road-building program.

RYAN TOOHEY, AMERICA MOVING FORWARD: When I hear that many states have close to a majority of their bridges deemed obsolete or structurally deficient, that scares me.

KAYE: The cost to fix them? About $1.6 trillion over five years, according to a study by the American Society For Civil Engineers. Problem is -- and it's a big one -- the money just isn't there.

Here's why. We fix bridges and roads and tunnels with money from the Highway Trust Fund. The money for that comes from the taxes you pay on the gas you buy. But people are now driving less, about 4 percent less in May alone. So, there won't be enough money for needed improvements. And that will leave many projects delayed, even canceled.

TOOHEY: Nearly every state in the country is facing a budget crisis. And if they don't have that money, they're not going to be able to solve the problems.

KAYE (on camera): The Bush administration projects, some time in the next fiscal year, before October 1, the highway account will hit zero, down from $8 billion at the start of the fiscal year. Payments simply can't be made if the money isn't there.

(voice-over): U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in a statement, "Without a doubt, our federal approach to transportation is broken." One short term solution, she says, may be for the Highway Trust Fund to borrow from mass transit's account. But it won't be easy getting Congress to approve that.

One year after that horrific day, no money, still no solution to America's highway crisis.


KAYE: The House did pass an emergency funding bill which would go towards the highway account of $8 billion. The Senate and the president still have to approve that. But, even so, with the price of oil, construction projects are skyrocketing.

Just to give you an idea, steel is up 50 percent. Asphalt has quadrupled, and concrete has doubled. So, these states still are finding it very hard to pay for any repairs or improvements -- Campbell. KAYE: All right, Randi Kaye, stay with us. We have got a lot more to talk about.

As we mentioned, one year ago today, an interstate highway bridge collapsed in the heart of Minneapolis.

Next, how close they are to rebuilding the bridge and what they're doing to keep other bridges from falling down.


BROWN: We continue our ELECTION CENTER special, "Roads to Ruin: Why America Is Falling Apart."

It was 6:05 on a Wednesday evening, late rush hour, when the I- 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis suddenly collapsed, dumping cars, trucks, buses and people into the water. Thirteen people died -- 145 people were injured.

Randi Kaye is in Minneapolis, where, one year later, a new bridge is going up, but a lot of fears haven't gone away -- Randi.

KAYE: Absolutely, Campbell.

That new bridge is under construction behind me. It should be done by mid-September, which is actually two months early. That's very good news for the state and very good news for the people who would like to get back to using that bridge on a daily basis. But, even so, with this bridge repaired, and presumably safe, many Minnesotans are asking, what about the rest?


KAYE (voice-over): It was a steamy August evening. Mercedes Gorden was on her way home from work caught in rush hour on the Interstate 35W bridge spanning the Mississippi. Without warning, the bridge began to sway.

(on camera): What did you say to yourself that day?

MERCEDES GORDEN, BRIDGE COLLAPSE SURVIVOR: I said, I will not die on this bridge. I said, I'm not going to die today. This is not the way I'm going to go.

KAYE (voice-over): The bridge collapsed. Mercedes' Ford Escort careened 60 feet down into the riverbank. She was trapped for more than an hour.

(on camera): You just plunged straight down?

GORDEN: At an angle. At an angle. The bridge pulled apart in from front of me, and went sliding -- or not sliding -- I caught air.

KAYE (voice-over): Her legs were shattered, her spine fractured. Thirteen commuters died that day. The collapse was ultimately blamed on a design flaw. But several reports in the years leading up to the collapse noted the bridge had structural problems. A wakeup call to Minnesota's Department of Transportation? Yes.

TOM SOREL, MINNESOTA TRANSPORTATION COMMISSIONER: We took a hard look at our processes and our procedures and how we inspect our bridges.

KAYE: A year later, are all the state's bridges safe? No. Just last weekend, a few miles from the Minneapolis bridge collapse, chunks of concrete weighing 1,200 pounds fell off this bridge in St. Paul.

Congressman Jim Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota, chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

REP. JAMES OBERSTAR (D), MINNESOTA: You would have thought the state had learned its lesson and done a better job of inspecting bridges and overpasses, and, yet, this was one they failed to accurately assess.

KAYE: Nobody was hurt, but we found the bridge had been rated structurally deficient more than 20 years ago, in 1985, and found deficient again when inspected last August, just days after the Minnesota bridge collapsed.

Still, Minnesota's Department of Transportation said it was safe.

SOREL: That shouldn't happen. We shouldn't have chunks of concrete fall off our bridges.

KAYE: Minnesota's transportation commissioner, Tom Sorel, says bridges now are supposed to be shut down immediately if there is any risk. His department inspected one in five of the more than 20,000 bridges across the state, and it did shut down half-a-dozen.

The state also says it spent $390 million on repairing and replacing its bridges since 2003.

(on camera): But Minnesota may not be using all of the money it can to repair and rebuild bridges. A congressional investigation found the state for several years used just half of the money available through a federal highway program for substandard bridges, one of the lowest rates in the country.

SOREL: The federal bridge money has restrictions on how it can be used, and a lot of times, we choose to fix our bridges before it gets to that level.

KAYE (voice-over): In other words, Minnesota decided it didn't want to qualify for all the federal bridge repair money it could have. So, did the state do enough? Mercedes Gorden, who's had nine surgeries since the bridge collapsed, questions its priorities.

GORDEN: I don't know where they think the money is better spent. To me, it's obvious. You lose 13 people, that tells you something. That should be an eye opener. That should be a wakeup call.

KAYE: She drives by here every week on the way to physical therapy, a painful reminder, she says, of how much more needs to be done.


KAYE: I asked the head of the Minnesota Department of Transportation if Minnesotans can trust his department's judgment when it comes to bridge safety. He says, absolutely. He says their inspections are quality. He says that their training is some of the best in the country in terms of the bridge engineers who inspect these bridges.

But, Campbell, that does still leave you to wonder, why we did see what happened last weekend, where you saw that 1,200-pound chunk of concrete fall down on the roadway in St. Paul, not very far from here. So, it's still going on.

BROWN: It is indeed. All right, Randi from Minneapolis for us tonight -- Randi Kaye, thanks.

Joining me now is an expert on how America got into this mess.

Stephen Flynn is a senior fellow for counterterrorism and national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think thank tank that provides analysis and information on many issues. He's also the author of "The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation."

Stephen, thanks for joining us.

Let me ask to you just follow up on what we just heard. It's been a year since the bridge collapsed. As that woman said, 13 people dead. This is a no-brainer. For a while, at least, everyone's attention was turned to this issue. So, tell us, is our infrastructure in any better shape than it was then?

STEPHEN FLYNN, SENIOR FELLOW IN NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It's worse now than it was because it's both aged and we continue to put pressure on it, demand on it.

And, yet as a nation, we haven't stepped up to the plate to really address the critical issue, that we're a bit like a generation that's inherited our grandparents' mansion, and we decide we're not going to do any of the upkeep. That has been going on for almost 20, 30 years.

BROWN: Well, you have said this before certainly that we have all been acting a little spoiled and that we really have no idea what it takes infrastructure wise in this country to sustain our daily lives. So, give us some insight into how vital this really is.

FLYNN: It is critical.

It's -- I mean, what we're doing is, we're taking so much for granted. You know, when we throw a light switch, we get lights. When we pick up a phone, we get a dial tone. When we turn on a faucet, we get water. That doesn't happen by magic. That requires energy systems. That requires a telecommunication network. That requires the basic foundations.

We need road, we need bridges, of course, to get to work, to get to stores.

BROWN: In terms of the potential danger here, what are you most afraid of?

FLYNN: There really almost are two levels. One is that some of the infrastructure really is life and death. That is, if you live downstream from a dam that breaks, you're going to have a wall of water arrive before you can get out of harm's way and drown.

It turns out over the last 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers have assessed that 3,500 dams we have around the country are unsafe. But the broader issue is that we just simply can't compete as a society if basically the power is intermittent, if things are breaking.

BROWN: So, Stephen, who is it that's opposed to this? No one would disagree with you based on what you're saying. Why can't we get it done?

FLYNN: The issue isn't that anybody thinks that investing in infrastructure is a bad thing. Everybody's worried about who will pay for it.

I think the fundamental change that we need to have is that we need a mind-set that views it as an investment, not as a cost. You know, we invest in our homes when we take out a mortgage. It's a debt we incur, but it's because we want to be able to live in a shelter for the rest our lives.

In the same way as a society, we have to see these things just like our grandparents and great-grandparents did, as an investment and something we can pass on to our children.

BROWN: Stephen Flynn for us -- once again, Stephen, thanks.

FLYNN: Thanks so much.

BROWN: It isn't only our roads and bridges that desperately need repair. Remember New Orleans' levees after Hurricane Katrina? And how about the Midwest levees this past June? Levees are all over America.

Well, next, a nation wide problem that could leave your home and everything you own under water.

"Roads to Ruin: Why America Is Falling Apart," an ELECTION CENTER special, continues in just a moment.


BROWN: It's been nearly three years since Hurricane Katrina, when the levees gave way and New Orleans nearly drowned. More than 1,000 people died. Louisiana's levees are being repaired and strengthened at a cost of nearly $15 billion.

But many other levees still need work. We were all reminded of that in June, when floodwaters in the Midwest poured through broken and overtopped levees, and farms and towns along the Mississippi and other rivers were swamped.

And, tonight, other cities and towns are at risk in places that may amaze you.

David Mattingly joins us now with more -- David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, when we talk about levee failures, that always sounds like a problem for people living on the Mississippi River, but that is absolutely not true. All you have to do is go to California, and you will find a big city that's risking everything on hundreds of miles of aging levees. Experts say it's in more danger than New Orleans. And all it would take for catastrophe to strike is one perfect combination of soaking and shaking.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): To be very clear, this is a fictional scenario.

It's been raining for days. The normally dry, hard ground is now saturated, but the California sun is out now, peeking through the clouds in Sacramento. A rain cloud has at last lifted. And the streets of the capital are busy again, people enjoying the outdoors.

Then, suddenly, a few hours later, the storms return. The wind kicks up and the Sacramento River, already swollen from the earlier rains, now surges, lashing at the 2,400 miles of aging, crumbling levees that snake around much of Northern California.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Boy, things are going downhill in a hurry.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Here, the water rises higher and higher. This is the city most vulnerable to flooding in the entire United States, even more so than New Orleans. But the real danger is beginning to unfold just over there, beyond the capitol dome and the skyscrapers of downtown.

(voice-over): In sprawling tracts of suburban housing built right up to the edge of the levees, people are anxious. Can the levees hold back a flood?

It's really blowing now.

MATTINGLY: And as the water rises, anxiety turns to fear. But the worst is yet to come. Much like the real life 5.4 that just rocked Los Angeles, a powerful earthquake strikes.

And the decrepit, water-soaked levees begin to shake and start to dissolve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the real thing.

MATTINGLY: Homes alongside the levees are instantly under water, owners who haven't evacuated swept away in a rushing muddy torrent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thousands drove or were airlifted to shelters scattered across the northern Sacramento region.

(on camera): In downtown Sacramento, city streets are swamped, important government buildings are cut off. As waters continue to surge, the effects of this catastrophe are just beginning.

(voice-over): To the southwest, the earthquake has transformed the levees holding back the sea in the San Francisco Bay into jelly. Saltwater rushes in from the coast and up in to the San Joaquin River Basin. California's biggest source of drinking water is contaminated. As aftershocks continue, fragile levees breach in as many as 30 places. Entire cities and 16 islands disappear under water.

Farms become lakes. Central highways and rail lines are wiped out. Trainloads of fruits and vegetables destined for refrigerators all across the country are ruined. In the end, economic losses are staggering. More than 300,000 people are left homeless.

SCHWARZENEGGER: We want to make sure we don't have the same thing as like in a disaster, the Katrina disaster, where you wipe out a whole city just because we didn't take care of the levees.

MATTINGLY: Though our scenario is fiction, it describes a genuine and terrible risk punctuated by recent and very real levee failures and floods. Some California officials are trying to stop development near the old levees.

LOIS WOLK, CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLYWOMAN: We have to stop adding more people to areas where there is no -- not enough protection. Don't build house unless there is sufficient protection.

MATTINGLY: Over time, many levees were reduced to big piles of dirt, weakened by invading tree roots and animal burrows. In a single year, the list of critically damaged levees grew more than 10 times over.

LESTER SNOW, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF RESOURCES: There have been a whole suite of probably 400 additional sites that have been identified, about 100 of those being critical.

MATTINGLY: The state went to work shoring up those critical levees, but work is still pending on the hundreds of other trouble spots. And the Southern California earthquake is just the latest reminder of how quickly catastrophe could strike.


BROWN: So, David, what's being done to shore up these levees?

MATTINGLY: Well, the 100 critical levees have been reinforced with rock, dirt, concrete, and in some cases walls were even constructed inside the levees to make them stronger.

The state of California is now working on the hundreds of other troubled levees in that state, taking care of the ones that would affect the large population areas first, hoping to avoid some of these worst-case scenarios.

BROWN: David Mattingly for us tonight -- David, thanks.

Summertime means cranking up the air conditioning, but will the power grid hold up? Well, next, another vital part of this country's crumbling information. We almost never think about it until the lights go out.


BROWN: It's been a scorching summer in parts of the United States. Imagine getting through it without air conditioning. If we don't do something about our electrical grid, every corner of this country is at risk of losing the A.C., light, power, phones, commuters, pretty much everything.

Here's CNN America bureau correspondent Jeanne Meserve.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was five years ago, a hot August, nearly 90 degrees, when the power suddenly went out and New York shut down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole place just went black. Everyone started closing up all the stores and everything. Scary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really don't want to be out on the streets. It's a little crazy out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't get nothing to drink. You can't get on the phones.

MATTINGLY: People trapped in elevators and subways, traffic lights out, throngs walking across dark bridges to get home, to stay cool, people climbing flights and flights of dark stairways to sleep on rooftops.

It was the biggest blackout in American history, 9,300 square miles in darkness, 50 million affected. For hours, and, in some places, for days, conveniences, even vital necessities, had vanished.

It started in Ohio, but pieces of the interconnected, interdependent power grid fell like bowling pins. Since then the system has been upgraded making a similar event less likely, but even an industry-funded group says it could still happen again.

CLARK GELLINGS, ELECTRIC POWER RESEARCH INSTITUTE: The infrastructure is in a fragile state because of our lack of investment over the last 25 years and enhancing that infrastructure. MESERVE: What are we talking about? Parts of a power system that are decades old. The average electric transformer is expected to have a 40-year life span and yet some that we count on are now 70 years old.

Seventy percent of transmission power lines, 25 years or older. Sixty percent of circuit breakers, more than 30 years old. Even the 200 million or so wooden power poles are a concern. Most are at least 30 years old and deteriorating. The utilities admit they weren't doing enough to replace and upgrade equipment.

DAVID OWENS, EDISON ELECTRIC INSTITUTE: The utility industry was not making the investment. We're not making the investment to the magnitude that would have been required in order to make sure that the infrastructure or a modern infrastructure, not an aging infrastructure.

GELLINGS: Let's not blame the industry by itself. The pressure from regulators, politicians, Wall Street has been to keep those rates low and that pressure continues.

MESERVE: The public, too, bears responsibility. Few people want a new power plant or transmission line in their back yard, although the appetite for energy is only going up. Xbox (ph), video games, plasma TVs, digital picture frames, computers, all have contributed to a 15 percent increase in average household electricity use in the last 10 years.

And in about 20 years, electricity demand is projected to increase by another 30 percent, meaning this aging power grid will somehow have to produce and distribute fully one-third more power.

MESERVE (on camera): There are signs of change. The electric industry plans to spend $1.5 trillion by 2030 to replace and upgrade equipment and expand capacity. But guess who will pay?

OWENS: It comes from you and me. It comes from consumers. They're used to having reliable electric service, so customers have to pay for that.

MESERVE: So essentially, rates are going to go up.

OWENS: Rates will go up. That's correct.

MESERVE (voice-over): But experts say it's all got to happen soon. Otherwise the combination of aging equipment and increasing demand could mean more disruptions, more New York style blackouts, plunging more Americans into darkness.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


BROWN: Every time we buy a gallon of gas at 4 bucks, we pay taxes that are supposed to go towards fixing our roads and bridges. Well, next in our ELECTION CENTER special, "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart," an eye opening look at where that money is really going.


BROWN: We continue our ELECTION CENTER special, "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart." In September of next year, the federal law that authorizes funding for the nation's transportation system will expire. That means the new president, either Barack Obama or John McCain, will have to work with the next Congress to agree on a new set of priorities in spending targets. Until then, where is the money going?

We asked CNN investigative correspondent Drew Griffin to look into the politics of highway money.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wherever you live, you don't have to drive far to see it yourself. Bridges in disrepair, if not falling down. Power grids outdated, if not fragile. Tunnels need work. Levees are leaking. It's a mess. And in too many cases, it's a matter of life and death.

Some in the federal government say we can fix this mess if we would only funnel more money to the politicians who let this happen in the first place. Really?

REP. JIM OBERSTAR (D), MINNESOTA: If you're not prepared to invest an additional five cents in road reconstruction, bridge reconstruction, then God help you.

GRIFFIN: Congressman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota used last year's fallen bridge as a launching point for his talking point. Increase the federal gas tax by a nickel and spend it repairing bridges and roads.

A year later, with gas prices soaring, we now drive less and buy less gas, so the federal government gets less tax money. Even more reason to increase the federal gas tax. Seems like common sense to some, but not to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

KEITH ASHDOWN, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: In tough economic times, we can't tax our -- we can't tax Americans more. We need to do more with less. And so we need to make sure we spend money where it's most needed.

GRIFFIN: I heard Keith Ashdown with the taxpayers group says the more Congress gets, the more Congress wastes. Look no further than the last monster spending bill Congress approved for transportation.

ASHDOWN: A significant portion of the highway bill had nothing to do with commuting or making our roads safer.

GRIFFIN: It was August 2005 when President Bush signed the staggering $286.4 billion highway bill. It was supposed to "make roads safer while cutting down on congestion." Well, it certainly didn't cut down on pork. $24 billion, eight to 10 percent of that bill was for earmarks.

Vermont got snowmobile trails. Virginia got horse trails. Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar got bike trails in Duluth. And despite fears the Highway Trust Fund is going broke, next year's transportation bill looks like it's headed down that same path to pork.

Annie Patnaude, with the conservative congressional watchdog group Americans for Prosperity, has been analyzing next year's transportation bill requests. She says once again the priority seems to be on pork.

ANNIE PATNAUDE, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY: I think clearly there has not a crisis if lawmakers had been doing what they should be doing all along, which is establishing priorities, and not wasting tax dollars on pork barrel earmarks. I think we would have very few of the problems that we're facing right now.

GRIFFIN: Congressman Oberstar is making bridges a priority by trying to pass a billion dollar bill requiring inspections of at-risk bridges along with the plan to fix them, a first step, he calls it. It will be followed next year by requests for an even bigger amount of money to fix them, of course, along with all those other requests for snowmobiles and horse trails. Think about that the next time you're sitting in traffic on a crumbling bridge being asked for another nickel a gallon in tax.


BROWN: Drew, it seems logical that if you throw money at the problem, it would get better. But you say that's not the case here.

GRIFFIN: Yes, the logic just doesn't seem to work. The Texas Transportation Institute looks at congestion across the country, Campbell. Last year, they released their study which again shows congestion increased in 437 of the largest cities in the nation.

Throwing money into this problem doesn't seem to work when the money is filtered through Congress. That's what the critics of how the transportation funding goes are after. They want states, local governments to solve their own transportation problems instead of sending it to Washington, D.C.

BROWN: Drew Griffin for us. As always, Drew, thanks.

We're going to take a break for the latest news headlines. More from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to talk about fixing America's "Roads to Ruin" when we come back. Stay with us.


ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill. "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart" continues in a moment. First, though, tonight's "Briefing." We just saw the horror from one year ago when the I-35 West Bridge collapsed. Today an interfaith religious service was held in Minneapolis to remember the 13 people killed in that bridge collapse.

Officials say the suspect in the 2001 anthrax poisoning case that killed five people was an anthrax researcher who may have wanted to test his new vaccine. Bruce Ivins killed himself this week before any charges could be filed. His attorney says Ivins was innocent, but the pressure of the investigation drove him to suicide.

And the U.S. Navy nuclear submarine may have been leaking radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean for months. Navy officials tell CNN the leak was found during routine maintenance on the USS Houston last month. There was a tiny almost undetectable amount of radiation in the water leak.

More of "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart" right after this.


BROWN: We continue with our ELECTION CENTER special "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart." We've already shown you whether we're talking about our roads, bridges, levees or power grid, America has a lot of fixing up to do. And we haven't even gotten into tunnels or railroads or other public transportation.

Joining me now, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a little bit, we're going to be joined also by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to talk about all of these problems.

OK, let me ask you about this, Governor Rendell, because you said yourself that Pennsylvania has the most dangerous bridges I think in the country. There's a lot of information to back that up. But you need to, I think, make this case to the rest of the country, if you're talking about federal dollars, is how much can the states pay for themselves. If Pennsylvania needs the most help, why should the people of Montana, for example, be supporting the work that needs to be done in Pennsylvania?

RENDELL: Well, first of all, they shouldn't support it by themselves. The states and local government have to maintain the effort, at least maintain the effort they're giving now. But right now, Campbell, states and local government pay 75 percent of the infrastructure costs -- 75 percent of the infrastructure costs that this nation spends.

We've got to continue to maintain that effort. No question. As I said, I've quadrupled the amount of money that Pennsylvania spends on bridges. But it's the same reason that we all take care of each other in this country. Pennsylvania is a big agricultural state and so is New York, but let's take New Jersey, not a big agricultural state. They pay for agricultural subsidies that go to the western states.

BROWN: But I think we all know that at the federal level, especially, a lot of this is just pure politics.

BLOOMBERG: If you go back and take a look, Thomas Jefferson had this idea that we should invest money in canals. That opened this country to the West and carried the country for decades. Then Franklin Delano Roosevelt trying to get us out of the Great Depression did exactly what Governor Rendell just said. He invested in infrastructure which created the jobs that help us come out of the recession, but it also carried this country's economy for decades.

Then along came Dwight Eisenhower, and Eisenhower built the interstate road system and that carried this country for decades. What we see now in Washington is every project is a pork barrel project. Some of it good, some of it necessary, but the way they decide on projects is based on who happens to have power on the Appropriations Committee in the House or the Senate.

BROWN: Governor Rendell, let me drill down on something that you touched on earlier, these creative solutions out there to try to raise some money. And you are pushing for a plan to lease the Pennsylvania turnpike to a group from Spain. And this has been happening in some places where foreign companies have taken over infrastructure in this country.

Is that something that as a nation we should be comfortable with, letting foreign-owned companies manage our infrastructure? I mean, even from a national security perspective, is that a good idea?

RENDELL: Well, as long as the state or the federal government maintains element control and we're leasing, not selling. That's a big difference. We control when tolls can go up and how much they can go up. We control how maintenance has to be done.

BLOOMBERG: Let me add one other thing. Step back and say why do these foreign countries have the money to invest here and we don't have it ourselves? The answer is they've been investing at home.

BROWN: Let me in this way, I guess, is frankly, what we're hearing tonight is some pretty scary stuff I think for a lot of people. Give us the bright side. How confident are you that these problems can and will be fixed? I mean, can they ever be?

RENDELL: Well, they can be. There's no question if we're willing to do a couple of things. One, change the way politics works in Washington about distribution of infrastructure of funds. If we're willing to do that, if we're willing to put our money where our mouth is, invest in our economy, invest in public safety, invest in quality of life for Americans, we can do this.

BROWN: Mayor Bloomberg.

BLOOMBERG: The reason to have hope is that we're America. You know, we do some stupid things every once in a while, but we do have a history of 245 years of coming to our senses, pulling together, doing what's right for the people of this country and for the world.

We have an awful lot to be proud of, but it's time for leadership. And that's what we need out of Washington, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, both sides of the aisle. It's a problem for the entire country. And, in fact, it's a problem for the world because we are so big.

What we do here impacts the ability of an awful lot of the six billion people on this planet to live every day. We have a responsibility to do what's right for them, for what's right for our kids. And it's making the investments, it's sucking it up, it's stop complaining about things and let's go do it.

BROWN: Governor Ed Rendell, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you both so much.

RENDELL: Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN: We're going to take another quick break. But next, I'll talk exclusively with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. His state has almost 7,000 bridges that need to be replaced or repaired and it has to be done fast.


BROWN: I'm back now with an ELECTION CENTER special, "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart."

Every year vehicles travel three trillion miles over the country's bridges. California has more than 24,000 of those bridges and nearly 7,000 of them need to be repaired or replaced. Joining me now is California's Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Governor Schwarzenegger, welcome to you. Thanks for joining us.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

BROWN: We are talking about a price tag for dealing with this problem on a national level of $1.6 trillion. I mean, where is that money going to come from? Would you support raising taxes for it?

SCHWARZENEGGER: People are paying taxes right now for this. The amount of taxes that you're paying right now nationwide is part of it, not just for the health care and education and military and all of this kind of spending, but also for infrastructure. In the '50s, in the 40s, they always had a certain percentage set aside of the gross domestic product for infrastructure. They just happen to cut it down and cut it down and cut it down and tried to kick that can down the alley and hoping that during their administration, that no one will notice.

But the fact is we all notice, and I think that the people are frustrated and angry. And when people get stuck in traffic all the time, they mainly are paying the taxes, why should they get stuck in traffic?

BROWN: But --

SCHWARZENEGGER: If you have a certain percentage of cars driving over a bridge, 50 years ago, and it's a two-lane bridge and you see that the amount of traffic is now tenfold, then you have to build ten times the amount of lanes across that bridge. It's common sense.

So you can't go and stay with those two lanes. So you got to increase, you got to spend the money on it. That's what our tax money goes for.

BROWN: But here's what our politicians in Washington are suggesting. John McCain, who you're supporting, called for a federal gas tax holiday. That gas tax is what pays for the bridge and road fixes that you're talking about here. Is that a mistake?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I wouldn't call it a mistake. I think that for him this is a solution to help people in America during the times when they travel the most to ease a little bit of pain.

BROWN: But it's taking money away from infrastructure.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I understand. I understand that. But I'm just saying that's something that you have to take up with him because it was not my proposal. But the bottom line is that I think that we need to go and take the money that you are paying right now in taxes if it is on gasoline tax or if it's an income tax, and use that money for infrastructure.

And I think that Washington has been again on this issue asleep at the wheel, and I think it's very important that we all now put the pressure on the candidates that are running right now, because I think this administration is on the way out because their term is over. So I don't think that they can create much change there.

But I think that the candidates that are now running for president, they can make a difference. And all what we want to do is just have them in both of the conventions, at the Republican Convention, and at the Democratic Convention, have those candidates mention that this is one of the top priorities for them to rebuild America. That's why we're putting the spotlight on this issue, to wake up these new leaders, these potential new leaders and just say make this a top priority.

BROWN: Senator Obama has suggested that the billions being sent to Iraq would be a good place to start in terms of diverting that money. Do you agree with that? Is that realistic?

SCHWARZENEGGER: It's political rhetoric. It doesn't make any sense at all because, I mean, we have a war over there that you can't just grab that money and put it over here into roads. It's the same thing as when the politicians go out and say we should do all kinds of things. We should tax the oil companies or we should do offshore drilling or alternative fuels, this will lower the price.

And I kept saying all along all what these politicians are saying does not lower the price right now, because it would take 10 years to get to this point so that it lowers the price. The only one that can lower the price is the people themselves. They have the power to lower the price because they can go and check the engines, if the engine is running well, get the right tire pressure, or if they're driving the right way and others are running in kind of like, you know, with accelerating and putting the brakes and accelerating. All those kinds of things.

And look what has happened. It was the people that drove down the gas price now. They brought gas prices down from $150 a barrel to 120 some dollars a barrel. That was people power. That's the power that the people have.

The politicians didn't do that. The people did that. So I think it is, you know, a lot of rhetoric that when they talk about grab the money from Iraq and put it into roads and all of those kind of things. I think we have right now money there, that you're paying in taxes and I think they're responsible to build our infrastructure and keep it up-to-date.

BROWN: Governor Schwarzenegger, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you very much. Thank you.

BROWN: We're going to be right back. This is an ELECTION CENTER special, "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart."


BROWN: That's all from the ELECTION CENTER. I will see you Monday.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.