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Transcript: Secretary Buttigieg Remarks to Announce Historic Investment in America’s Bridges in Philadelphia

Friday, January 14, 2022

Thank you very much Senator, thank you to everybody who’s joined us here. I’m so pleased to be in such distinguished company and in a place with such great leadership.  

Mayor, I couldn’t have said it better in terms of the priorities that you set out, that align so well with what’s important to us as an Administration: safety, climate, equity, job creation and economic strength, and getting ready for the future. 

Senator Casey, I want to thank you for your leadership and for being there really every step of the process. Last time I saw you we were still in sales mode, trying to get this done. Now we’re in delivery mode; the dollars that you heard about are being loaded into the Highway Administration system literally next week. 

Representative Evans, thank you for welcoming us to your district, for saying so eloquently how important it is to do this right with regard to equity. I want to acknowledge and thank our friends Representative Boyle, Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, and all the members of the delegation from Pennsylvania whose votes made this possible. 

It is no exaggeration to say that the decision of Representative Evans, Senator Casey, and others, to support this legislation will directly lead to improved transportation in Philadelphia and around this state and this country, beginning this year. 

Secretary Gramian, great to see you again, having seen you in Pittsburgh. In fact I’ve been meaning to complement you because after becoming a father I also became a mini-van owner, recently. And we’re driving that from our native Midwest to D.C., which involved an unofficial trip to Pennsylvania on the way through. Didn’t have our E-Z Pass hooked up yet, and checked the mail the other day, and discovered the extraordinary efficiency of your toll-by-plate system. So congratulations on that, finding me right where I live – Governor, not a penny is going to waste, I can assure you. 

And Governor, your determination not to wait on Washington, as you have led the way on funding transportation, is finally being met with support and help from Washington, as state and federal partners do the right thing, and we’re so glad to be in a state that has such excellent, excellent leadership. 

So I’m here to give you a sense of literally what President Biden’s vision for building a better America looks like – and what it looks like is direct improvements to roads and bridges around this country, like the MLK Bridge that we’re gathered in front of today.  

Over the Schuylkill River, right here, we see this bridge whose condition in its steel framing and deck required it to be closed for safety, impacting the daily lives of 25,000 drivers a day, and creating congestion for many others. 

And that’s just one bridge; there are more than 80 bridges in poor condition in Philadelphia alone – some closed, and some with weight restrictions that makes it harder to use them. 

And I'm not saying that to pick on Philadelphia in any way... in Pittsburgh, when I was with the Senator, the Secretary, and others, we saw nets hung under the McKees Rocks Bridge there to catch pieces of concrete that would fall off from time to time.   

The point is not to pick on Pennsylvania either. Across the country, there are tens of thousands of bridges in poor condition, and every day, Americans cross those bridges about 170 million times. 

We know that when the bridges are in good shape, they help people to get to where they need to be more safely, more efficiently, more affordably, and I would note, that strengthens our supply chains – gets groceries to where they need to be, and keeps prices lower.  

When on the other hand bridges are in poor shape, the consequences are felt by every carpooling parent, every commuter, and every truck driver - and those delays add up to profound costs for America’s families and economy. 

And when it gets bad enough, like we see here, bridges have to be closed entirely for safety.  

In Mississippi, in recent years hundreds of bridges were closed, drying up income for small businesses whose customers couldn’t reach them, causing delays for emergency vehicles needing to reach homes, and increasing costs for farmers who had to pay higher shipping costs for detours. 

I was able to see firsthand the harm to people and supply chains at the I-40 de Soto Bridge in Memphis, which had to be closed for emergency repair earlier this year. 

And it’s very clear that this is a consequence of decades of underinvestment.  

But, America can win this century, just as we won the last one.   

Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, that’s exactly what we’re gonna be able to do.   

The Bridge Formula Program that we're launching today is the largest dedicated highway bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system itself.  

This deal provides $27.5 billion to states and Tribes to replace, fix, protect, and construct bridges.  

It’s projected to help as many as 15,000 bridges across the country. 

And reflecting this Administration’s commitment to regional equity, it also includes an incentive for funds to be used to repair what we call “off-system” bridges, which are primarily owned by local governments and sometimes the last to see support – we see that in rural areas as well as in our biggest cities. So for these “off-system” bridges, we’re going to move past the traditional 80/20 federal/local split, and cover 100% of costs.  

Now with the size and scale of the bridge program that we’re launching today, we’re going to be able to fix on-system and-off system bridges in rural, urban, suburban, and tribal areas alike – and that’s going to make life better for people across the country by the millions. 

We're going to improve the condition of our bridges, it’s going to give peace of mind to everyone on our roads, as well as those who are being driven - our kids on school buses traveling over bridges to get to class or to get to a ball game.   

The repairs are going to allow bridges currently closed or facing weight limitations to re-open at full capacity, reconnecting businesses, people, and communities. 

And that means huge economic growth. I just had the privilege of spending some time with union leaders from around this region, who are seeing to it that the right skills and the right people are in place to deliver on these improvements, and to deliver the economic impact and generational wealth-building that can come from these kinds of public works. 

We’ll see lower shipping costs, more customers for businesses, faster movement of goods across our supply chains, fuel savings, lower maintenance costs for drivers who don’t have to hit holes in the road, and that thing that is so important and so intimate in our lives, the simple fact of precious time being returned to people’s days. 

This program also encourages making bridges more resilient against extreme weather. The Mayor was sharing with me earlier how part of the impact on this bridge and this whole area had to do with the kind of storms that are unfortunately becoming more frequent, more urgent, as the climate crisis in different ways touches every single community. 

And as part of what helps on the front end with greener transportation and more active transportation, this funding can also be used to help make bridges more safe and accessible for people who walk or bike, which, as we saw here, is something that people love to do when they have the option to do it safely. 

We’re not just restoring everything exactly the way it used to be; we’re modernizing and building a better America.  

And that means a whole lot of new, good jobs, good-paying blue-collar jobs that you can raise a family on. 

I’ll end with this: Bridges are so often used as a metaphor for connection.  And of course we are going into the weekend when we honor and acknowledge the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for whom this bridge is named, someone who often spoke of building bridges between all Americans.  

That’s certainly a message that rings true now in both literal and symbolic terms. 

And both literally and symbolically, we’ve got a lot of bridges to repair, as well as to build. And we would do well to remember Dr. King, who taught us through actions like the Montgomery Bus Boycott that sometimes safety and equity and justice come down to the literal right to physically get to where you need to be.      

We’re all connected in this way in America. Our economic futures are connected, our values are connected, the fates of our children are connected, our safety is connected. And that is a source of strength just as much as the steel and concrete, the brick and mortar, that you’re going to see around the country as a consequence of this legislation.  

So we couldn’t be more thrilled to be here today.