United States President Joe Biden was headed to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Friday to promote the benefits of his infrastructure package scheduled to be held near the site of an early-morning bridge collapse that underscored his frequent calls to do more for the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges .
Ten people sustained injuries, all of them minor, when the snow-covered span collapsed into a wooded gully at about 6am (11:00 GMT), according to authorities, who said a large gas leak was reported in the area at the time. The leak was brought under control.
“It sounded like a snowplough,” a witness told KDKA, a local news station, calling the timing – on the day of Biden’s visit – “an amazing coincidence”.
Biden was told of the bridge collapse and he will proceed with his trip as planned, White House spokesman Jen Psaki said. The White House is in touch with state and local officials about the collapse, she added.
The collapse of Biden’s highlights call for massive investment in the nation’s aging bridges, highways and other infrastructure, which the president sees as a vital step in assuring the economy’s long-term health along with addressing supply chain shortage and revitalizing manufacturing.
“The president is grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time,” the White House said in a statement.
The collapsed bridge, near Pittsburgh’s Frick Park, was inspected last September, the city’s fire chief told reporters.
A photo posted on social media by KDKA 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.
Pennsylvania has 3,198 bridges rated as being in “poor” condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
– Pittsburgh Public Safety (@PghPublicSafety) January 28, 2022
Biden, whose approval ratings have fallen in recent months amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and inflation, got a boost on Thursday when the Commerce Department reported the US economy grew the fastest in nearly four decades in 2021.
In Pittsburgh, the Democratic president will tour Mill 19, a former steel factory building now serving as a research and development hub, before hailing the US economy’s strong recovery from the pandemic, the White House said.
“The president will talk about the remarkable economic progress we’ve made over his first year in office – including the fastest single year of job growth in American history, the biggest unemployment drop on record and, as we learned on Thursday, the fastest economic growth in 2021 in almost four decades, ”a White House official said.
The visit will take Biden, a native of Pennsylvania, to a key battleground in this year’s midterm congressional elections. The battle to replace Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who is not seeking re-election, is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races this year.
The trip is an opening step in a broader campaign to promote White House achievements in key states before the midterm elections. But two of the three leading Democrats on Pennsylvania’s statewide ballot this spring who were invited to appear with Biden will not attend, their campaigns confirmed on the eve of the president’s visit.
Biden will tout the creation of 367,000 manufacturing jobs since he took office one year ago, and the passage of a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill – a rare bipartisan victory in a deeply divided US Congress.
The president also plans to talk about his push to rebuild American competitiveness and beat China in a race to dominate the global economy, an official said.
In recent days, General Motors said it would invest $ 7bn in Michigan to expand electric vehicle production and Intel said it would invest $ 100bn to build a chipmaker in Ohio.
Mill 19 is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s Manufacturing Futures Institute and hosts a robotics laboratory and a technology training site.