The Pittsburgh bridge collapse reinforces the necessity of Biden’s infrastructure investments
"We’ve been chronically underinvesting in critical infrastructure like bridges for too long.”
Before he toured a revitalized Pittsburgh steel mill on Friday to play up the infrastructure bill he signed into law last November, President Joe Biden visited the scene of a catastrophe that occurred just hours prior to his arrival.
Ten people were injured when a bridge in Steel City collapsed, leaving a bus and five other vehicles stranded and at least four people hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. The city of Pittsburgh said search and rescue crews were focused on searching for possible victims underneath the rubble of the bridge.
A spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration, a division of the US Department of Transportation, said in a statement to Supercreator that it was sending bridge engineers to the scene to assist in the investigation led by the National Transportation Safety Board. The spokesperson added that the FHWA was in close contact with state and local officials, including the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the City of Pittsburgh.
Ed Blazina, Jesse Bunch, Andrew Goldstein, Kris B. Mamula, Julian Routh, Mick Stinelli and Stephanie Strasburg at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the bridge was last inspected in September 2021 and inspections from 2011 to 2017 rated it in poor condition. Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, has the highest number of bridges in poor conditions. Overall, 46,154 bridges — or about 7.5 percent — of the country’s 617,000 bridges were considered in poor condition, according to a 2021 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
During a Q&A with reporters on the way to Pittsburgh, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said there are 45,000 bridges in poor condition in communities across the country.
“That is completely unacceptable,” Jean-Pierre said. “We’ve been chronically underinvesting in critical infrastructure like bridges for too long.”
A House Transportation Committee source struck a similar tone.
“The tragic collapse of a Pittsburgh bridge makes clear the need to swiftly implement the bipartisan infrastructure law,” they said. “We must immediately pass a full-year appropriations bill and get this critically needed funding out to our communities befor another horrific incident like this one.”
When Biden arrived at the scene, he stopped at one end of the collapsed bridge to visit with first responders and local and state officials for an impromptu briefing on the collapse. He was joined by Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pittsburgh, Rep. Connor Lamb (his congressional district includes most of the northwestern suburbs of Pittsburgh), Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and others. Lamb and Fetterman are running for the Democratic nomination to fill the seat Republican Sen. Pat Toomey will vacate when he retires this year.
“First of all, these guys deserve an incredible amount of credit going down here,” Biden said of the first responders who worked to make sure everyone was safe.
Reporters traveling with the president said the smell of natural gas was in the air. Police told Biden that they were unsure whether the collapse was caused by an explosion in the gas line or if the gas line leaked after the collapse.
The president spent time looking across the snowy chasm where the bridge once stood. The red bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed could still be seen from the edge, which had been roped off with police tape. A pickup truck with a crumpled front end was also sitting on top of the collapsed bridge deck, along with a black sedan and two other overturned cars.
“I’ve been coming to Pittsburgh a long time,” Biden said, adding that the city has more bridges than any other in the world. “And we’re going to fix them all.”
Back to previously scheduled programming
The President was already headed to Pittsburgh on Friday to share his economic vision and how the bipartisan infrastructure deal he signed into law last November would get us there.
He first toured Mill 19 — an industrial plan build around 1943 that at one point produced more than one million tons per year. Today, it’s the poster child for the kind of reimagination the administration wants to play a role in facilitating across the country.
This phase of the new Mill 19 is focused on manufacturing, research and development, with artificial intelligence, automation and robotics as the cornerstones. The mill is also home to Carnegie Mellon University’s Manufacturing Futures Institute. President Biden received a tour before his speech.
Biden celebrated the progress his administration made in its first year of office: The fastest single year of job growth in American history, the biggest unemployment drop on record and the fastest economic growth in 2021 in almost four decades. He also acknowledged rising inflation as a problem.
The White House said America has a unique opportunity to position itself to out-innovate, out-build and out-compete the rest of the world in the 21st century. But I get the sense from conversations that I had this week with creators about the economy that this kind of optimism feels like a heavy lift for most people who just want the pandemic to be over and their fundamental rights protected.
Biden also called on Congress to take up the competitiveness legislation that the House and Senate have introduced to invest in American innovation, R&D, manufacturing and loosen supply chain bottlenecks.
The Senate passed its version last summer and members could vote on the House’s as early as this week. Then, both chambers will compromise on a final bill for Biden to sign into law.
“So let's continue to give working families a fighting chance. Let's keep investing in the future of every city and town in this country. Let’s face the challenges head-on,” Biden said in Pittsburgh. “Let's keep building a better America, because it's totally, completely within our power. I promise you. I promise you.”
How the Education Department plans to track state spending of pandemic relief funds
The Education Department launched a new resource on Friday to help states share their progress investing the billions of dollars they received from the American Rescue Plan.
The tool invites states to describe their implementation strategies to make sure the funds are used as the ARP intended and serve as best practices for other states.
It’s unclear why the tool wasn’t announced on Thursday during or after Sec. Miguel Cardona’s speech outlining his vision for American public education or why a spokesperson did not share it when I requested a response to several follow-ups. Journalists agree to hold information from sources until a specific time or date all the time. So even if the tool wasn’t reportable yet, the knowledge that it was coming would have probably shifted the tone in my recap of Cardona’s speech.
“As the Omicron surge continues, schools continue facing huge challenges — from buying masks to dealing with staff shortages — and it's key they use these resources quickly and carefully to meet their communities' urgent needs,” Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, and chair of the Senate committee of jurisdiction on education, said in a statement. “I’m monitoring closely to make sure that happens, so I'm glad this new tool will boost transparency and help schools across the country share their progress and keep kids in school safely.”
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TODAY IN POLITICS
The president and vice president are in DC this weekend with no public events on their schedules.
First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will host National Governors Association spouses and spouses of senior defense leaders at the White House for a service project to prepare 1,000 care packages. The packages will be distributed to National Guard personnel activated across the country.
— The White House said approximately 60 million households placed orders for free COVID tests from the website the government launched last Wednesday. Tens of millions of tests have been shipped and households around the country are already receiving them. There was no mention of expanding the residential standards to allow multi-family housing units to order the tests without calling the hotline.
— The $15 minimum wage for 70,000 federal employees and 300,000 federal contract workers goes into effect on Sunday. “These workers benefiting from these actions are critical to the functioning of the federal government and of our nation, and I’m proud that their wages will begin to reflect that,” President Biden said in a statement. “I continue to urge Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, so that American workers can have a job that delivers dignity.”
— President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcomed a new cat named Willow to the White House. A new dog named Commander joined the first family at the end of last year. [@FLOTUS / Twitter]
AGENCIES & DEPARTMENTS
— The Federal Aviation Administration reached a deal with Verizon and AT&T to enable the wireless providers to expand their 5G service while allowing aircraft to land safely. Airlines and the FAA were concerned that 5G could interfere with readings from devices that determine the distance between planes and the ground, which pilots rely on when visibility is low. [Niraj Chokshi / NYT]
— Fewer witnesses are speaking at congressional hearings, which leads to lawmakers seeking the limelight for themselves to attract viral coverage on social and digital media. The result: Potential witnesses fear members will use them as grandstanding targets. [John D. Rackey, Lauren C. Bell and Kevin R. Kosar / WaPo]
— Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts sent President Biden a letter to require the Defense Department to commit to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The Department is the world’s largest employer in the world and the country’s largest energy consumer.
— Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Republican Rep. John Katko of New York introduced a bipartisan bill that would create a new $25 million grant program to renovate abandoned and distressed properties in high-concentration areas. “Homes are at the heart of each and every one of our communities,” Bustos said in a statement. “And ensuring every family has access to safe, affordable housing is essential.”
— A Pennsylvania state court struck down in a 3-2 decision that the state’s landmark election law is unconstitutional, ruling that the legislature could not make changes to voting laws without amending the state constitution. Pennsylvania filed an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court, which keeps the law in place during the appeal process. [Nick Corasaniti / NYT]
— 54 percent of federal student loan borrowers said taking on that debt was not worth it, according to a new CNBC survey. The average federal loan amount for borrowers is $36,510. [Sharon Epperson and Stephanie Dhue / CNBC]
— The methane leaking from natural gas-burning stoves inside US homes has a climate impact comparable to the carbon dioxide emissions from 500,000 gas-powered cars. It contributes to about a third as much warming as stove’s natural gas, leaks unburned chemicals into the air and exposes people to respiratory disease-triggering pollutants. [Rob Jordan / Stanford University]
— Meta (formerly known as Facebook) will air its first TV ad for WhatsApp on Sunday during the AFC Championship Game. The commercial is part of the company’s first-ever WhatsApp marketing push — physical billboards and online campaigns will be featured too — and focuses on privacy offered by the app’s encryption. [Alex Heath / The Verge]
— Apple launched a new App Store feature that enables a developer to publish an app that can only be installed via a direct link. An unlisted application is still submitted to the App Store in the normal fashion and must pass the App Review process, but it won’t be available to the general public once approved — making the feature ideal for organizations and private events. [Benjamin Mayo / 9to5Mac]
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Jenni Alvins on the quiet rise of cannabis use among expecting and breast-feeding parents:
Child-welfare and cannabis laws, and their interpretations, differ widely from state to state, and even hospital to hospital. New York, Texas, and New Mexico have all passed laws separating child abuse from cannabis use. Of course, there are potential health risks, too, but with an evolving slate of scientific research about the plant’s effects on developing fetuses and breastfeeding babies, we are still learning exactly what, and how serious, they may be.
While legal cannabis in the U.S. is now a $25 billion business — and women account for about one-third of the market — when it comes to pregnancy, the topic is still too stigmatized and, in some cases, too dangerous for patients to discuss with their caregivers. The result: systemic racial inequity, spotty scientific research, and a damaging culture of mistrust, fear, and silence.
Ben Terris on the new House Democrats’ unsettling first year:
It’s not as if the House Democrats have done nothing. They impeached Trump over the Capitol attack, passed a $1.9 trillion pandemic recovery bill and finally put an end to the years-old joke about every week being Infrastructure Week. But those who dreamed of reshaping American life with an ambitious agenda of liberal policies might feel underwhelmed by the results so far.
Robert Klemko on police training:
With local, state and federal money for training plentiful, and with little guidance or oversight for what officers should be taught, some speakers at training conferences tell officers that pushback against conventional policing is a media invention. Others demonize civilian protesters and reformers, describing them as loud voices holding minority opinions. Still others say police should maintain a “warrior mentality” to weather the rigors of what they describe as the most dangerous job outside of military service. (In reality, law enforcement is the 22nd most dangerous occupation, safer than roofing and collecting garbage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.) Trainers include many former law enforcement officers and military personnel, some of whom are linked to extremist groups and anti-government movements.
Syeda Khaula Saad on the fantasy of TikTok’s healthy-eating videos:
As with all social media, these healthy-eating videos are aspirational. But there are a few things that set them apart. While Instagram creates a clearly idealized version of reality, TikTok retains a sense of ordinariness. It’s not only influencers who go viral on the app— anyone can get TikTok famous. And unlike most unrealistically perfect content on Instagram, these healthy eating videos on TikTok are meant to be explicitly instructional. Recipes are advertised as easy or simple enough for “every day,” just the sort of thing to appeal to TikTok’s extremely young audience, who may be learning to cook for themselves for the first time. Then there’s the distinctive video format, which prioritizes quick cuts and heavy editing — just the sort of thing that leaves out all the ordinary steps in between pretty shots. It’s no wonder that when all’s said and done, you end up with a video that bears only a passing resemblance to real life.
Laura Reilly on how restaurants are attracting workers:
The Great Resignation is upgrading restaurant industry benefits and perks.
Restaurant owners are offering shorter workweeks, life insurance, mental health services, college tuition and more paths to career advancement. They are giving out free Spotify subscriptions, adding nursing stations for lactating employees, and promising signing bonuses and free food to anyone off the street who fills out an application.
Many restaurants are adding benefits not traditionally offered in the industry. According to a recent survey of 1,200 restaurants by the Independent Restaurant Coalition, nearly 40 percent have added paid sick leave for the first time, and more than 20 percent have added paid vacation during the pandemic.
Jess Thomson on reading:
Like millions of others around the world, I use Goodreads to track how many books I’ve read. I like to look back over my reads the way I look at my own Instagram stories, to feel some kind of vague pride, or perhaps a drop of serotonin. One feature of Goodreads and other apps like it is that they are social: You can see your friends’ reading activity. This can be a lovely way to share recommendations with friends, make sure everyone knows how cultured you are, and to stalk the reading habits of ex-boyfriends. While this can motivate you to commit and find the time to read, it can also exacerbate the dreaded feeling of “not doing enough” of your favorite hobby and not having the perfect curated bookshelf of intelligent reads.
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