‘Bridging’ the partisan gap for the good of the country

Earlier this month, President Biden announced a major investment in the nation’s infrastructure. States will divide $27.5 billion in new federal aid to repair or replace thousands of bridges across the country.

You may not have heard much about that because the focus of the news has been on the Build Back Better plan, election reform legislation and the attempts to eliminate or modify the filibuster.

All those stories had a heavy dose of personality politics focusing on Biden’s relationship with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

Mix all that in with everything COVID and it is no wonder the bridges story has not made much of an impact. But think about this for a minute:

According to the Transportation Department’s 2020 National Bridge Inventory, 45,000 bridges nationwide are in poor condition. The funding Biden announced will pay for repairs to about one-third of them.

Unlike traditional transportation dollars, which are typically allocated to states based on their size, this money will be distributed based on need, and that’s good for West Virginia. The trade group American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s most recent report concludes that 1,545 bridges in our state, 21% of all bridges, are classified as “structurally deficient.”

Eighty-six of the structurally deficient bridges in West Virginia are on the Interstate Highway System. Over 900 bridges have posted load limits that restrict the size and weight of vehicles crossing. In some instances, that could be a school bus.

As a result, West Virginia can receive more than $500 million. That is more than Ohio, Kentucky and Maryland and nearly as much as Virginia. Pennsylvania is scheduled to get the most of any of the surrounding states—$1.6 billion.

The bridge work means better roads and more construction jobs. “The investment in bridges is not only much needed, it is designed to create thousands of good paying jobs for local construction workers,” said Steve White, executive director of the West Virginia Affiliated Construction Trades.

The money for the bridge work is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law supported by the president and approved by Congress last year. That law totals $1.2 trillion, including about

$550 billion in new spending over the next five years for roads and bridges, airports, rail systems and ports, the electric grid, broadband, improvements in drinking water and wastewater systems and climate initiatives.

In a sparsely covered speech at the White House Jan. 14, Biden said, “There’s a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven’t gotten done — we’re gonna get a lot of them done, I might add — but this is something we did get done.”

So, here’s a tip: Move on from the failures and focus on the successes, the infrastructure law in particular. This is what the federal government, what Congress and the presidency, look like when they are functioning as intended.

And that’s a bridge to a better future.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.