Today I am pleased to sign into law S. 1789—a bill that responds to January's earthquake in Southern California and will help States reduce potential losses from future earthquakes. This legislation expands the eligible uses of Federal bridge replacement and rehabilitation funds to include seismic retrofitting of highway bridges, regardless of whether the bridges are in need of other repairs or work. S. 1789 will greatly assist States in their efforts to reinforce bridges to better withstand earthquakes.
The California earthquake crippled much of the regional transportation system, serving as a sharp reminder of the vulnerability of our infrastructure to natural disasters and of the need to increase our preparedness for such events. The damage to the transportation network in Southern California had far reaching consequences. People's everyday lives were changed because of the difficulty of travel in the region, most notably in the time and effort spent getting to work. All levels of government immediately pulled together to minimize the disruption and resulting economic losses. That effort is continuing.
In my visits to the earthquake-damaged areas with members of my Cabinet and the Congress, one question was repeatedly raised: "We cannot prevent another earthquake, but can we prevent any of the resulting loss of life and debilitating infrastructure damage?" With regard to much of the damage to bridges and overpasses, the answer to that question is "yes." The California earthquake proved that seismic retrofitting works. None of the bridges in the Los Angeles area that were seismically retrofitted failed or suffered major damage as a result of the earthquake. The 12 bridges that were severely damaged during the earthquake had not been fully retrofitted.
The Congress responded quickly by providing much needed additional financial aid to victims of the earthquake through emergency supplemental funds. However, we need not only to provide assistance for repairs, but also to provide the flexibility to allow States to make sensible investments to prevent future losses.
I am very pleased that the Congress, led by Senator Boxer, has acted again to provide an additional tool to California and other States that may face similar natural disasters. This seismic retrofitting legislation does not increase Federal expenditures but allows States the flexibility to determine their own bridge needs. Together, these actions will not only speed recovery from the California earthquake but will also help mitigate potential losses to life and property in any State by future earthquakes.
S. 1789 will empower States throughout the Nation to make critically important investments in infrastructure to prevent highway bridge collapses. Ultimately, it will save both lives and dollars.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON
The White House, March 17, 1994.