President Biden visits Pittsburgh bridge being repaired thanks to infrastructure funding


Pennsylvania officials used $25.3 million in federal grants to accelerate construction on the Fern Hollow Bridge, which is nearing completion after collapsing in January.

President Joe Biden on Oct. 20 visited the site of a bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that collapsed on Jan. 28 to talk about the success of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bridge is currently forecast to be reopened by the end of 2022 following repairs funded by the law.

"Pennsylvania alone has already received $5.2 billion just this year for hundreds of projects across the commonwealth. … Pennsylvania's been able to repair Fern Hollow Bridge in less than a year and by Christmas, God willing, we'll be walking — I'm coming back to walk over this sucker," Biden said in his remarks.

The collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge injured at least 10 people and sent three to the hospital. The bridge had been deemed to be in poor condition during numerous inspections before the collapse, going back as far as 2011. It was one of 3,353 bridges that had been listed in poor condition by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The department announced in February that $25.3 million in federal grant funding would go toward financing reconstruction of the bridge. The money came from the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Performance Program, which will receive an estimated $140 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in the next five years.

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a disaster emergency the same day the bridge collapsed, and on Mar. 3, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced that design and construction work on the project was underway. Pennsylvania officials expect the bridge to reopen before the end of 2022.

Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, the transportation department's district manager for the area where the bridge is located, told Pittsburgh television station WPXI on Sept. 27, "We're actually way ahead of a normal schedule for a bridge like this."

The White House cited the rapid repairs to the Fern Hollow Bridge as an example of how the infrastructure law is improving and accelerating construction projects on bridges across the country.

"In less than a year, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds are being put to work to begin to repair, rehabilitate and replace over 2,400 bridge projects across the United States, exceeding President Biden's goal for the first year," the White House's Oct. 20 statement reads.

The U.S. Department of Transportation had previously announced in January that part of the $1.9 trillion infrastructure bill would fund its Bridge Formula Program, providing over $27 billion to be used to repair an estimated 15,000 bridges in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories and on tribal lands.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg described it at the time as "the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate highway system."

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was opposed by a majority of Republicans in both the House and the Senate. While Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and the nine Democrats that represent Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives voted for the law, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and eight of the nine Pennsylvania Republicans in the House opposed it.

Toomey is retiring after this term, and his replacement will be elected in November. Current Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is the Democratic nominee, and Mehmet Oz is the Republican nominee.

In addition to bridge construction, the infrastructure law is being used to fund other major national projects. A total of $900 million from the law is being used to deploy electric vehicle chargers along the interstate highway system; $1 billion is going toward airport upgrades and repairs; and at least 23 tribal entities have received money from the law to upgrade and expand high-speed internet access.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.