The bipartisan bridge that Biden built
The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act may well go down as the most impactful domestic achievement of the Biden administration, however long that administration may be. Unfortunately, don’t expect any bipartisan achievement like it for the next couple of years.
Near the end of 2021, Congress authorized spending $1 trillion, about $550 billion of it in the first five years, to make America’s infrastructure great again. That investment is helping states repair the nation’s transportation systems, upgrade deteriorating water systems, expand access to highspeed internet service, and prepare for the expansion of electric vehicle use.
If carried out successfully, the rebuilding of roads and bridges and the updating and expansion of rail networks will spur economic expansion while reducing greenhouse emissions. This is smart growth, for a new century. And it is long, long overdue.
In working with the likes of Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and former Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, President Biden fulfilled a campaign vow to secure the bipartisan support necessary to fix the nation’s aging infrastructure. He succeeded where his predecessors — Presidents Obama and Trump — had failed. Nineteen Republicans joined 50 Democrats in the Senate in passing the legislation. On the House side, 13 Republicans voted for the infrastructure bill.
Illustrating that this investment is not simply having an impact in far off places removed from our day-to-day reality here in southeastern Connecticut, on Jan. 4 U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg visited New London to discuss the $158 million awarded for desperately needed repairs to the northbound span of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge. The bridge carries traffic across the Thames River on one of the busiest highways in the nation, Interstate 95.
Connecticut competed for the money under the Large Bridge Grants program established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It was one of four major bridge networks to win funding for repairs — joining the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the four bridges that cross the Calumet River in Chicago, and the Brent Spence Bridge that traverses the Ohio River to connect Covington, Ky. and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Most representative of this bipartisan achievement, this evidence that Washington can move past gridlock to achieve great things, was Biden joining Kentucky Sen. McConnell in announcing the $1.6 billion in grants to revitalize the Brent Spence Bridge. Built in the 1960s to carry 80,000 vehicles daily, but now seeing traffic twice that amount, the aging bridge, with its frequent lane closures and stalled traffic, had become a symbol of the decline of the nation’s infrastructure and its inability politically to address it.
“For decades, people have talked about the Brent Spence Bridge, but folks, talking is over. The bipartisan infrastructure law, we’re finally going to get it done,” Biden said at the event.
“I always feel no matter who gets elected, once it’s all over, we ought to look for things we can agree on and try to do those, even while we have big differences on other things,” said McConnell.
That should be true, but it seldom is in this era of highly partisan times. With Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives, and a small group of hard-right Republicans commanding disproportionate influence over legislation in the House, no such major achievements will be possible in the second half of Biden’s term. That is why it was so important the infrastructure bill passed when it did.
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