PITTSBURGH (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday checked out the repair work underway at a Pennsylvania bridge that became a symbol of the nation’s troubled infrastructure when it collapsed nine months ago as he tries to showcase his administration’s efforts to revitalize the nation’s roadways.
The stop at Fern Hollow Bridge, which collapsed into a ravine just hours before Biden visited Pittsburgh last January, was part of the president’s latest road trip to sell White House accomplishments in the runup to midterms elections that are less than three weeks away.
Administration officials say the repair job, expected to be finished by December, was accelerated by passage of a bipartisan infrastructure law that Biden signed late last year. Biden had diverted from his planned itinerary last January to visit the site of the just-collapsed bridge.
On Thursday, he returned to the bridge to turn it into a symbol of success for the White House and Democrats, who count the bipartisan law as one of several achievements during the first two years of Biden’s presidency.
“When you see these projects in your neighborhoods and cranes going up, shovels in the ground, I want you to feel the way I feel: Pride,” Biden said, speaking next to a tall, yellow crane at the edge of the new span of Fern Hollow. “Pride in what we can do when we work together.”
He added: “Instead of infrastructure week — which was a punchline for four years under my predecessor — it’s infrastructure decade, a headline on my watch.”
The legislation is one of Biden’s successes from the first two years of his term, and he repeatedly emphasizes its impact while traveling the country to roadways, airplane terminals and seaports. Out of roughly $1 trillion in spending, about $40 billion is dedicated to bridges.
“We’ve made tremendous progress,” said Mitch Landrieu, a senior White House adviser tasked with overseeing spending and implementation of the massive infrastructure bill. Landrieu said the funding for the swift repair came in part because of the infrastructure law funding going to the state. “We have actually rebuilt this bridge within a year.”
“The president is standing in the breach and actually demonstrating with historic legislation that he’s passed, that his choices are different and better for the country.”
The Biden administration has sought to increase the pace of building infrastructure projects, hosting a summit last week at the White House to help state and local government officials streamline their processes.
The push to speed up the permitting, design and construction process has come as high inflation has pushed up costs and caused delays. The Commerce Department has an initiative to coordinate the installation of water pipes and broadband and power lines to avoid tearing up roads multiple times. Also, the Transportation Department launched an internal center to advise on best practices for construction.
John Fetterman, the Democrat running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, was on hand when Biden visited the Pittsburgh bridge. Biden thanked Fetterman — currently the state’s lieutenant governor — for his candidacy and told his wife, Gisele, “You’re going to be a great, great lady in the Senate.”
“This law’s about more than rebuilding our infrastructure, it’s about rebuilding the middle class — something John knows a lot about and talks a lot about,” Biden said during his remarks.
The Fettermans later accompanied Biden to a Primanti Bros. sandwich shop in nearby Moon Township, where the president paid for several bags of takeout food and, in a brief exchange with reporters, expressed confidence that Democrats would retain control of the Senate.
“It ain’t over until it’s over,” Biden said of his party’s prospects in the Senate.
Earlier Thursday, Biden, before boarding his helicopter on the White House South Lawn, challenged a reporter who suggested that few Democratic candidates have done events with him ahead of the midterm elections.
“That’s not true,” Biden responded. “There have been 15. Count, kid, count.” He later told reporters in Moon Township that he has received several requests from Democratic candidates to campaign but he did not yet have details.
After the bridge, Biden plans to stop in Philadelphia for a fundraiser with Fetterman, trying to replenish coffers that have been drained in one of the year’s most expensive races.
Fetterman is competing with Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Republican, for an open seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey, also a Republican. If Fetterman wins, Democrats will have a much better shot at maintaining control of the Senate.
Biden was born in Pennsylvania, and the state remains central to his political identity.
His trip on Thursday will be his 14th to the state since taking office. A 15th trip has already been scheduled for next week, when he’s expected to return to Philadelphia for another political event.
© Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved.