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Pittsburgh-area leaders join forces to make the most of Biden's infrastructure bill

Margaret Sun
90.5 WESA
Business and government leaders in southwestern Pennsylvania are eager to secure new federal funding to improve core physical infrastructure in the region.

With President Bidenjust days away from signing his $1.2 trillion infrastructure package into law, Pittsburgh-area leaders are already crafting their pitch in an effort to maximize the region’s share of the money.

“We're trying to position the region to make sure that we get as much of this investment as possible,” Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce president Matt Smith said. “We're working in sync with labor partners, with business partners, with university and foundation partners.”

The White House said Wednesday that Biden will sign the spending bill Monday. Pennsylvania is slated to receive about $18 billion for public works projects, including road and bridge repairs, water system improvements, and broadband deployment.

Smith noted that federal agencies will disburse more than $100 billion through competitive grant programs. He said the local campaign for those funds will revolve around southwestern Pennsylvania’s industrial past and robotics prowess.

“Pittsburgh can be a model for the deployment of this investment, and you can take what we're able to create here in Pittsburgh and scale it throughout the country, throughout the globe,” he said.

Smith said regional leaders will use that message to vie for money to develop the nation’s hydrogen energy and battery manufacturing capabilities, both key technologies in the bid to move away from fossil fuels.

Funding earmarked for roads and bridges could finance infrastructure to test self-driving vehicles, Smith said.

Local business leaders announced an effort this summer to turn southwestern Pennsylvania into a global hub for autonomous mobility. They say the initiative would allow the region to rebuild its manufacturing capacity while tapping into a market with the potential to grow to $1 trillion in the next five years.

Smith expects federal agencies to begin pushing out the infrastructure money over the next year.

He said spending on existing locks and dams and public transit systems represent especially critical investments.

“We're seeing right now the results of under-investing in our infrastructure and our clogged supply chain, for example, not only in this country, but throughout the world,” Smith said, referring to ongoing transportation disruptions that have roiled global shipping routes.

“If [our] locks and dams fail and those goods and commodities are not able to get to market, not able to get to industrial customers in this region,” he said, “our economy is going to be severely damaged.”

Smith said transit agencies will use the federal money to electrify their fleets, and he said the Allegheny County Port Authority will be able to expand service to the Mon Valley.

To secure as much of the funding as possible, he said, county and municipal officials will need to coordinate with one another, as well as universities and the private sector, which might also be eligible to apply for the money.

“It's really going to require a regional collaborative effort,” he said.