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Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Wins Broad Support From Regional Transportation Leaders

Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden delivers a speech on infrastructure spending at Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Pittsburgh.

Western Pennsylvania leaders enthusiastically greeted a $621 billion federal plan to invest in roads, bridges, public transit, airports and inland waterways. The transportation proposal is part of the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan President Joe Biden unveiled in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, though its chances of passage remain unclear.

Vincent Valdes leads the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a federally-mandated metropolitan planning organization which represents the 10-county region. As the president’s proposal moves from idea to legislation, Valdes said he’ll look for the legislation to allow for local flexibility. 


“I worked for years in Washington [at the Federal Transit Administration], and I will be the first to tell you that Washington doesn’t have all the answers,” he said. He said he’ll root for the federal government to have “confidence in local decision making and local planning to best suit our own needs.” 


Valdes said the initial proposal appears to be less concerned with exactly how people travel and more with simply making it easier and more affordable to do so “and creating that kind of zeitgeist of being happy in a place.” 


Part of that comes from the plan’s goal to make streets safe for all users, said Scott Bricker, executive director of cyclist and pedestrian advocacy group BikePittsburgh. 


“It’s reconnecting our communities with the idea that you shouldn’t have to own a car in order to have access to the things you need in life,” he said, and to do so safely. The plan commits $20 billion to “Vision Zero,” the idea that no one should die or be seriously injuered on American streets while traveling. 


“What's so important about Vision Zero is that it is a strategy to address what so many people think are inevitable–traffic deaths and serious injuries,” said Bricker. “It's a policy position that acknowledges that deadly crashes are preventable” through changes to design, engineering and operation changes. 


More than twenty percent of households in the City of Pittsburgh don’t own a car. Port Authority of Allegheny County spokesperson Adam Brandolph said with new funding there’s “no shortage of new and state-of-good-repair projects we might be able to pursue.” 


The president’s plan also includes a $174 billion investment meant to help the U.S. “win the [Electric Vehicle] market.” 


Rob Altenburg, senior director of energy and climate for nonprofit PennFuture, said the push to electrify cars and provide charging stations could create jobs and improve air quality in the commonwealth. 


“Pennsylvania is a transportation hub,” he said. “We are very centrally located so we get a lot of vehicle traffic, and a lot of out of state vehicle traffic.”


Altenburg said there’s no way to address climate change without electrification of automobiles. 


One goal of the transportation investment is to ease the flow of goods through the country. The Port of Pittsburgh annually enables the movement of 21.5 million tons, said executive director Mary Ann Bucci. But they struggle with a backlog of maintenance on the rivers’ locks and dams. 


“This is the key to really see an injection of funding and really build a reliable system,” she said, noting that moving that tonnage to trucks on the road has a deleterious effect on local air quality. 


The infrastructure and jobs plan is sure to face a stiff fight in Congress. However, officials here say they’re optimistic they’ll get something. 

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