WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden visited the site of a bridge collapse in Pittsburgh on Friday during a trip to the city to promote an infrastructure package that he said would help prevent similar incidents from massive spending on transportation projects.
While surveying the damage, Biden thanked first responders and spoke to local officials. “We’re going to fix them all. No kidding, this is going to be a massive change,” he said, pointing out that the collapsed bridge in Frick Park has been in bad shape for 10 years.
According to the Department of Transportation, Pennsylvania will receive $327 million in bridge funding this fiscal year and a total of $1.6 billion over the next five years.
“There are another 3,300 bridges here in Pennsylvania, some of them as old and in just as dilapidated condition as that bridge, including here in Pittsburgh, the city of bridges,” Biden said. “There are 43,000 across the country and we’re sending the money.”
After his trip to the collapsed bridge, the president visited Mill 19 in Pittsburgh, which was once a major metal producer and has now shifted its focus to developing technology for artificial intelligence, automation and robotics. Biden previously visited Mill 19 as his first major campaign stop in 2020.
“After my freshman year, I wanted to return to Pittsburgh. This is my third time here at this facility to take stock of what we’ve accomplished together and look forward to the extraordinary opportunities that lie ahead for Pittsburgh and America as we continue to do our job,” Biden said.
The White House wanted to use the trip, planned before the bridge collapsed, to promote the $500 billion infrastructure bill passed last year. The government sees the package as one of the main selling points for the midterm elections as it kicks off efforts to bolster Democrats in the ballot.
Biden was joined by Mayor Ed Gainey, as well as two of the top Democratic Senate candidates, Rep. Conor Lamb and Lt. gov. John Fetterman. Fetterman originally did not plan to attend the events due to scheduling conflicts, his spokesman said, but eventually joined the president after the bridge collapse. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the likely Democratic nominee in the state governor’s race who also had a scheduling problem, was not in attendance.
Biden’s journey comes as Democrats examine how to navigate an unpopular president in the upcoming election. According to an NBC News poll, Biden finished his first year in office with a 43 percent appreciation for his job. Six in ten respondents to the poll said they disapproved of his handling of the economy, while more than half gave him low marks on coping with the Covid pandemic.
Biden has often talked about the $110 billion in law allocated to repair and replace some of the country’s more than 43,000 bridges that are in poor condition.
Pittsburgh officials said they were still investigating the cause of the bridge’s collapse, which injured 10 people. Gainey said the collapse underscored the need for infrastructure funding ahead of Biden’s visit.
“Ultimately, this is crucial. We need this funding and we’re excited to have the president come today,” Gainey said at a news conference Friday.
During his remarks, Biden highlighted the 367,000 manufacturing jobs the economy has created since taking office, and praised Intel’s recent announcements of new chip plants in Ohio and a new GM plant in Michigan.
“We all have to work together, we all have to work together to make this happen, and that’s finally starting to happen,” Biden said. “When the federal government invests in innovation, it empowers the private sector to do what it does best. Creating incredible new technologies, new industries, and most importantly, new jobs. High-paying jobs.”
He also used the comments to push the House to pass a bill aimed at increasing the U.S. competitiveness with China.
Biden had good news to trumpet about the economy. The Commerce Department released data Thursday showing that the U.S. economy grew at its fastest pace since 1984, with gross domestic product growing 5.7 percent in 2021. The economy grew 6.9 in the fourth quarter. percent, the data shows. Economists expect that growth to slow later this year due to the ommicron variant and inflation, which Biden said his administration is working to address.
“Inflation is a problem,” Biden said. ‘That is real. Many people are injured by it.’
Sahil Kapura contributed.