Bills soon expected in Congress to shore up the nation’s highway infrastructure have support from the Associated General Contractors of America - even if they include raising the federal gas tax.

The AGC submitted a letter of support Sept. 5, the same day as a hearing on “structurally deficient bridges” by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee’s chairman, Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar, proposes raising the federal per-gallon gas tax by a nickel for the next three years to create a fund dedicated to bridge maintenance.

The federal gas tax is currently 18.4 cents a gallon.

“This targeted, nationwide bridge reconstruction program is an appropriate response to tragic collapse of a span of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis and to our country’s pressing needs,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the contractor group.

The Aug. 1 rush-hour failure of the bridge, one of the busiest in Minnesota, killed 13 people and injured 100 others.

Saying the country faces a “looming infrastructure crisis,” Sandherr called Oberstar’s plan a good start toward fixing the “long-term neglect” of U.S. bridges and roads.

He suggested any federal gas tax increase be tied to inflation to ensure enough money is available.

“Indexing this user fee to account for inflation will help our economy avoid future catastrophes,” Sandherr said.

The gas tax proposal has run into rigid opposition from the Bush administration, many Republicans and some Democrats against raising such a broad-based tax, especially with an election looming in 20008.