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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 through massive spending on transportation projects.
As he surveyed the damage, Biden thanked first responders and spoke with local officials. "We're going to fix them all. Not a joke, this is going to be a gigantic change," he said, noting that the collapsed bridge in Frick Park had been rated in poor condition for 10 years.
Pennsylvania is set to receive $327 million in funding for bridges this fiscal year and a total of $1.6 billion over the next five years, according to the Department of Transportation.
"There are another 3,300 bridges here in Pennsylvania, some of which are just as old and in just as decrepit condition as that bridge was, including here in Pittsburgh, the city of bridges," Biden said. "There's 43,000 nationwide and we're sending the money."
Following his trip to the collapsed bridge, the president visited Mill 19 in Pittsburgh, which was once a major metals 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 first year, I wanted to come back to Pittsburgh. This is my third time here in 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 if we continue to do our job," Biden said.
The White House was looking to use the trip, which was scheduled before the bridge collapse, to promote the $500 billion infrastructure law passed last year. The administration sees the package as one of its key selling points for the midterm elections as it kicks off efforts to bolster Democrats on the ballot.
Biden was joined by mayor Ed Gainey as well as two of the state's leading Democratic Senate candidates, Rep. Conor Lamb and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Fetterman had not originally planned to attend the events due to scheduling conflicts, his spokesperson said, but ended up joining the president following the bridge collapse. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the likely Democratic nominee in the state's gubernatorial race who also had a scheduling issue, did not attend.
Biden's trip comes as Democrats are assessing how to navigate an unpopular president in the upcoming elections. Biden ended his first year in office with his job approval rating at 43 percent, according to an NBC News survey. Six in 10 respondents in the poll said they disapprove of his handling of the economy, while more than half gave him low marks on dealing with the Covid pandemic.
Biden has frequently talked about the $110 billion in the law allocated to repairing and replacing some of the over 43,000 bridges in the country that are in poor condition.
Pittsburgh officials said they were still investigating the cause of the bridge collapse, which injured 10 people. Gainey said the collapse underscored the need for infrastructure funding ahead of Biden’s visit.
“At the end of the day, this is critical. We need to get this funding and we are glad to have the president coming today,” Gainey said Friday at a press conference.
During his remarks, Biden highlighted the 367,000 manufacturing jobs that the economy has created since he took office, and touted the recent announcements of new chip manufacturing plants in Ohio by Intel and a new Michigan GM plant.
"It takes all of us working together, all of us working together, to get this done, and that's finally beginning to happen," Biden said. "When the federal government invests in innovation it powers up the private sector to do what it does best. Creating incredible new technologies, new industries and most importantly, new jobs. Good paying jobs."
He also used the remarks to push the House to pass a bill aimed at increasing U.S. competitiveness with China.
Biden had some good news to trumpet on the economy. The Commerce Department released data Thursday showing that the U.S. economy grew last year at its fastest pace since 1984, with gross domestic product expanding by 5.7 percent in 2021. The economy grew 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter, the data showed. Economists are expecting that growth to slow later this year due to the omicron variant and inflation, which Biden said his administration is working to address.
"Inflation is a problem," Biden said. "That's real. A lot of people get hurt by it."