You can’t make this stuff up.
Just hours before President Joe Biden was set to arrive in Pittsburgh to deliver a major speech touting his still unrealized overhaul of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the city’s Frick Park Bridge collapsed, sending several people to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted on Friday morning that President Biden had been notified of the bridge collapse, and “will proceed with trip planned for today” while “stay[ing] in touch with officials on the ground about additional assistance we can provide.”
According to the Associated Press, rescue crews formed human chains to help recover passengers stranded on a bus that had been on the bridge at the time of the collapse, while first responders used ropes to rappel under the bridge to check for further survivors. The collapse also severed a nearby gas line, prompting officials to shut down gas service in the area. The city switched all Early Childhood Centers, K-5, K-8, 6-8 and Special Schools to remote learning for the day, citing “the impact of a bridge collapse in the East End and high call-offs among bus drivers.”
For Biden, desperately seeking to resuscitate his moribund domestic agenda, the timing of Friday’s collapse offered an opportune (if slightly awkward) opening to highlight the significance of his more than one trillion dollar infrastructure plan. As the White House notes on the bill’s “fact sheet,” Biden’s plan specifically aims to “Repair and rebuild our roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians.”
The bill would, in fact, be “the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system,” the administration claimed.
It’s hard to imagine a better backdrop for the president to cite the need for — and his commitment to — fixing the nation’s overstressed, underfunded transportation system than a collapsed bridge, particularly one that had been previously flagged for maintenance due to one of its major x-beams being “rusted through entirely.” All Biden needs to do, really, is stand at the site of the collapse and say “see? This is what I’m talking about!”
“At the end of the day, this is critical,” Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said during a press conference on the bridge collapse and Biden’s visit. “We need to get this funding and we are glad to have the president coming today.”
Given the overall state of the country’s underserviced infrastructure, it was largely inevitable that there would be a collapse like Friday’s at some point during Biden’s presidency. The ironic timing of when and where that collapse eventually occurred only serves to highlight just how crucial the need for immediate action is.