Biden visits collapsed Pittsburgh bridge and vows more US investment

President says it's 'mind-boggling' how far behind US is on infrastructure investment

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US President Joe Biden stopped to visit a Pittsburgh bridge that collapsed hours before he arrived on a scheduled trip to the city on Friday, underscoring the urgency of his drive to rebuild the country's creaky infrastructure.

Standing before concrete barriers papered with yellow police tape, Mr Biden craned his neck to look out over the crumbled bridge.

“The idea that we’ve been so far behind on infrastructure for so many years, it’s mind-boggling,” Mr Biden said.

Friday's bridge collapse — which caused no fatalities but prompted rescuers to form a human chain to retrieve people from a precariously perched bus — offered a striking example of what Mr Biden has declared is an urgent need for infrastructure investment.

A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Mr Biden noted that the state has about 3,300 bridges, some of which are in poor condition. About 45,000 US bridges are in a decrepit state, Mr Biden said.

The $1 trillion infrastructure law signed by Mr Biden has earmarked about $1.6 billion for Pennsylvania bridge maintenance, with tens of billions more for public transit, motorway maintenance and broadband internet expansion.

Vehicles are seen on the remains of a bridge that collapsed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US , January 28, 2022. Reuters

Speaking later at a manufacturing research and development centre, Mr Biden promised that money from the infrastructure law would help rebuild the collapsed Pittsburgh bridge and “thousands of other bridges across the country”, but he also expressed urgency over distributing the funding.

“We’ve got to move,” he said. “We don’t need headlines that say someone was killed when the next bridge collapses.”

The morning of Mr Biden's visit, authorities reported that the snow-covered bridge had collapsed near Pittsburgh's Frick Park.

A photo posted on social media by KDKA television showed several vehicles piled in the rubble of the collapsed roadway at the bottom of a wooded gully. At least one vehicle, which appeared to be a bus, was dangling at the edge of part of the bridge. A strong smell of natural gas permeated the area, Pittsburgh Public Safety said in a Twitter message.

Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Chief Darryl Jones said three or four vehicles were involved in the collapse and there were 10 minor injuries with three take to hospital. None of the injuries were life threatening, Mr Jones said.

One witness, speaking to KDKA, called the timing of Mr Biden's visit “an amazing coincidence".

In Pittsburgh, the Democratic president also toured Mill 19, a former steel mill now serving as a research and development hub, before hailing the US economy's strong recovery from the pandemic.

In recent days, General Motors said it would invest $7 billion in Michigan to expand electric vehicle production and Intel said it would invest $100bn to build a chipmaker in Ohio.

The Commerce Department reported on Thursday that the US economy grew 5.7 per cent in 2021, its strongest expansion since 1984 and the first time in 20 years that US economic growth outpaced that of China.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: January 29, 2022, 10:31 AM