Biden visits Pittsburgh bridge collapse, promises more US investment

PITTSBURGH, Jan 28 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden stopped to look at a collapsed Pittsburgh bridge just hours before he arrived for a planned visit to the city on Friday, dramatically underscoring the urgency of his drive to rebuild America’s creaking infrastructure. .

Visibly moved, Biden gazed across a ravine above the warped sections of the half-century-old Fern Hollow Bridge, flanked by Pennsylvania and local officials and rescue workers as he surveyed the damage.

(Don’t miss: the collapsed bridge is one of 44,000 in disrepair in the United States)

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“The idea that we’ve fallen so far behind in infrastructure, for so many years, is just mind-boggling,” the president told them.

A rescue worker described the scene after the collapse as loud as a jet engine. Biden praised the work of rescuers, noting a natural gas leak that wasn’t stopped until about 30 minutes after first responders arrived at the scene.

Rescuers abseiled at least 150 feet (46 meters) into Fern Hollow and used ropes to pull people to safety after the snow-covered span collapsed above the ravine around 6 a.m. (1100 GMT ), Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones said.

“They helped the firefighters who were here initially on the scene, also did like a daisy chain, with hands just grabbing people and pulling them up,” Jones said.

Ten people were lightly injured, four of whom were taken to hospital, city officials said. Jones added that crews would search below deck for any casualties.

The incident was a high-profile example of the need to rebuild the country’s aging bridges, highways and other infrastructure with money from a $1 trillion spending bill, which was a landmark first-year achievement at the power of Biden.

Images of the collapse showed the four-lane span distorted into three large sections, with several vehicles piled up in the rubble of the collapsed roadway at the bottom of the ravine. The tail of a long red city bus appeared trapped in the rubble.

The massive gas leak caused by the collapse forced the evacuation of several families from their homes before being brought under control, Jones said.

Damaged vehicles are seen at the site of a collapsed bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 28, 2022. Photo taken with a drone. REUTERS/Drone Base

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The US National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to the site.

Pennsylvania has 3,198 bridges classified as being in poor condition, according to the US Department of Transportation.

The collapse came just two weeks after Pennsylvania secured $327 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to repair the bridge under the Biden administration’s new infrastructure law. Pennsylvania’s share of bridge repair money is the third-largest state allocation, behind only California and New York.

Biden said he was amazed to learn Pittsburgh had more bridges than any city in the world. “And we’ll fix them all,” he said before leaving the site.

JUMPS IN ECONOMIC GROWTH

Biden, whose approval ratings have plummeted in recent months amid a surge in the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, received a boost Thursday when the Commerce Department announced that the economy America had seen the fastest growth in nearly four decades by 2021.

Economists say Biden-backed fiscal stimulus, including the $1.9 trillion U.S. bailout that pumped money into states for COVID relief and into households in the form of Stimulus payments, played an important role.

In Pittsburgh, the president visited Mill 19, a former steel mill building now serving as a research and development center, and said he took stock of what he had accomplished so far.

“Making in America is what built this city, the city of steel,” he said. Pittsburgh understands the consequences of what happens “when we ignore the backbone and don’t invest in ourselves.”

The Democratic president was returning to the site of his first major campaign event of 2019 and his first stop after his inauguration. The state is a crucial battleground for Democrats to retain control of the Senate midterm in 2022.

He touted the creation of 6.4 million jobs and 367,000 manufacturing jobs since he took office a year ago, and the passage of the Infrastructure Bill – a rare bipartisan victory in a deeply divided Congress.

“It takes a federal government that doesn’t just pay lip service ‘to buy American,’ he said. “Now we are starting to see the results.”

In recent days, General Motors Co (GM.N) said it would invest $7 billion in Michigan to expand production of electric vehicles and Intel Corp said it would invest $100 billion to build a chip manufacturing in Ohio.

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Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Katharine Jackson, Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu, Andy Sullivan, Heather Timmons; Editing by Howard Goller, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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