Biden touts infrastructure bill in front of Fern Hollow Bridge replacement
In a brief, upbeat speech at the site of a bridge that collapsed just before his earlier visit to the area, President Joe Biden said the rapid work to replace it showed that "America is the only country in the world that comes out of crises stronger than we went in. ... And that's the story I want to tell here."
Biden, speaking on a chilly but sunny day near where the Fern Hollow Bridge is being rebuilt, recalled that it had fallen on the morning of Jan. 28, "at 6:45 on a snowy day," as he was preparing to visit the city. While he said injuries were kept to a minimum "by the grace of God," he added, "It never should have come to this.
"For most of the last century, we led the world ... because we invested in our people, we invested in ourselves, we invested in our land," Biden said. "Along the way we stopped doing that, but not anymore."
Last November, two months before the bridge collapsed, Biden had signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, an expansive effort to rebuild and expand not just roads and highways but internet access, water systems and green infrastructure. Referring to former President Donald Trump's repeated failures to pass similar spending, Biden gibed, "Instead of infrastructure week, which was a punchline under my predecessor, it's infrastructure decade."
Money for the bridge repair did not come from the law itself, Biden said, but with that funding in the pipeline, state officials had an easier time shunting already-allocated dollars to expedite repairs. The bridge, which might ordinarily have taken more than two years to repair, is due to reopen this winter.
"I'm coming back to walk over this sucker," Biden said. Though he added, "My staff said to me, 'Do you realize how many times you've been to Pittsburgh?'" The answer, he said, was 19, cautioning "Don't tell them in Scranton."
In fact, while Biden is a native son of that eastern Pennsylvania city, Pittsburgh has long been a focus for him. As he noted in his remarks, he launched his 2020 presidential campaign here, and the city has served as a backdrop when he has unveiled other policy initiatives. Today, it served as a case study in both the challenges Biden said he inherited and his efforts to address them.
"This one bridge tells a broader story," he said, noting that it was just one of roughly 45,000 bridges nationwide rated in poor condition.
"Pitsburgh's the city of bridges, but too many of them are in poor condition," he said. "This is just one of 2,400 bridges across this country that are being repaired just this year because of this law."
Biden also celebrated a number of other initiatives his infrastructure bill would fund, including a $350 million effort to cap abandoned wells in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, to prevent them from leaking methane. The gas is a major contributor to climate change, and the work of containing it, he said, would employ "folks in the communities that dug the wells in the first place."
He also touted the administration's investments, through a separate bill, to renovate the Montgomery Dam, a project that would enhance the capacities of the region's water navigation system.
Biden's speech was attended by a number of state and local officials, including Senator Bob Casey -- who Biden repeatedly referred to as "Bobby" — and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Biden is slated to attend a fundraising reception with Fetterman later today in Philadelphia.
And while his visit to Pittsburgh was an official White House event, he couldn't resist joking — as he did the day before — that Republicans who opposed the infrastructure law as wasteful big government spending, were asking for money to be invested in their districts.
"I gotta say," he said, "I was surprised there were so many socialists in the Republican caucus."