Immediately upon landing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Friday, President Joe Biden visited the Forbes Avenue bridge over Fern Hollow Creek. The bridge collapsed about 6:50 a.m. Friday, just hours ahead of his planned visit to underscore the need to improve the nation's crumbling infrastructure.
'We're going to fix them all,' Biden said to emergency personnel and local officials at the site, referring to the more than 40,000 bridges across the nation that are considered in poor condition. 'This is going to be a gigantic change.'
A Port Authority bus that was on a bridge when it collapsed Jan. 28, 2022, is visible in Pittsburgh's East End.
Authorities said at least 10 people were injured in the bridge collapse, the cause of which wasn't clear.
Biden spoke later Friday at Mill 19, a few miles from the collapsed bridge near the city's Frick Park. Mill 19 was once a major metals producer but is now Carnegie Mellon University's research center in artificial intelligence, automation and robotics.
In his speech, Biden touted his $1.2 trillion infrastructure measure, which passed in November with bipartisan support.
'This is the first time in the country's history that we dedicated a national program to repair and upgrade bridges,' Biden said.
The visit was designed to promote the administration's effort in strengthening the global supply chain and bolstering manufacturing and the nation's infrastructure, a key selling point for Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections.
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Inflation and supply chain crisis
Just 41% of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing, according to the latest poll by the Pew Research Center, largely because of disappointments related to pandemic recovery and inflation.
Consumer prices jumped 7% in December compared with a year earlier, the highest inflation rate in 40 years - a problem exacerbated by the supply chain crisis.
FILE - A man browses largely empty shelves for cat food at Pet Club on Nov. 18, 2021, in Emeryville, California. According to store employees, supply chain issues are preventing the store from keeping products stocked.
The administration has taken steps to address the global supply chain issue, which resulted from unpredictable supply and demand patterns and pandemic-driven worker shortages. Those steps include a $230 million grant to improve port infrastructure and incentives to recruit and retain more truck drivers.
'Those things are not going to help us in the next six months,' said Panos Kouvelis, a professor of supply chain at Washington University in St. Louis. 'It's very hard in the short term for the government to really change the picture.'
Kouvelis pointed out that the supply chain problem needs a global solution. 'We can solve our problem, but if China is not shipping things efficiently out of their ports, things are still going to get delayed,' he said.
Out of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, $550 billion is allocated over five years for federal investments in America's infrastructure, to restore bridges and roads as well as the nation's broadband, water and energy systems.
The funding is sorely needed. America's infrastructure received an overall grade of C-, according to a 2021 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The report says that 42% of the more than 617,000 bridges across the country are at least 50 years old, and 7.5%, or over 46,000, are considered structurally deficient or in poor condition.
'We've been chronically underinvesting in critical infrastructure like bridges for too long,' principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey speaks at Carnegie Mellon University at Mill 19 in Pittsburgh, Jan. 28, 2022.
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey told public radio station WESA that Biden's visit was important to highlight the need for infrastructure funding.
'We know we have bridges we need to take care of,' Gainey said.
In July, Biden comforted families of those who died after a condominium building in Florida partially collapsed, killing 98 people.
Competition with China
The collapsed bridge is another example of the 'tragic infrastructure failures across the country,' Andy Winkler, the Bipartisan Policy Center's director for housing and infrastructure projects, told VOA. 'And I think it shows the global community how far we've fallen behind.'
'Transformational investments preparing us for the future is what the administration, state and local governments will have to focus on next,' he added.
Biden again touted his infrastructure plan in the context of a U.S. competitive edge globally.
'The United States of America used to be ranked number one in the world of investing in the future; now we ranked number nine in research and development,' Biden said. 'China was number eight three decades ago. Today it's number two.'
FILE - Construction laborers work in Wheeling, Ill., March 31, 2021. America's infrastructure received an overall grade of C-, according to a 2021 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The White House says the package would allow the country to better compete with China, which spends 5.5% of its gross domestic product on infrastructure, far more than most developed countries and several times more than the U.S.
A report by the Council on Foreign Relations concludes that U.S. infrastructure is dangerously overstretched and lagging that of its economic competitors, particularly China.
In Pittsburgh, Biden also promoted another signature piece of legislation, the Build Back Better plan on social spending and climate change mitigation, that is stalled in the Senate. Earlier this month, Biden acknowledged that Democrats would need to break the $1.75 trillion package into pieces to try to pass its most important components.