During a town hall meeting in Cincinnati in July 2021, President Biden promised to “fix that damn bridge.” He was talking about the antiquated Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River that connects Ohio with Kentucky via interstates 71 and 75.
Seventeen months later, Congress passed the massive Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It included $1.6 billion to build a new bridge for the interstates and refurbish the existing one for local traffic.
Wednesday, Biden returned to Cincinnati for the ribbon-cutting, and there was a significant bipartisan contingent there for the photo op, including Republicans Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
It was a victory lap for Biden and the other many political leaders on hand. As President John F. Kennedy said, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” The infrastructure bill will provide many more victory laps for Democrats and Republicans who supported it.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia backed the bill, so they will get their share of ribbon-cuttings. Former 1st District Rep. David McKinley also supported the $1.2 trillion bill.
“We had never had an infrastructure bill put before us and we were able … to put in $6 billion into West Virginia infrastructure,” McKinley said on “Talkline” Monday. “Do I turn my back on that? No.”
McKinley also believes his support of the bill contributed to his loss to Rep. Alex Mooney in the 2022 2nd District Republican Primary. Mooney panned the bill as a bloated liberal handout. “The bill was light on traditional infrastructure projects, but heavy on unrelated liberal priorities,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
But the law does include massive amounts of federal money for the Mountain State — $3 billion for roads and bridges, including $200 million for Corridor H, $487 million for water and sewer, $600 million for broadband expansion, $850 million to clean up abandoned mine sites and cap orphan gas wells and $300 million for transit.
That is a lot of money for needed infrastructure in our state. Mooney will be able to argue during his Senate race in 2024 that he held the line on federal spending or “liberal agenda” items, but he will not be able to, in good conscience, herald these improvements because of the law.
Maybe that is the way of the future for a more conservative wing of the Republican Party. But I think most voters still want and expect their government to maintain the roads and bridges, to make sure their drinking water is clean, that sewage doesn’t run into the creek, to provide the necessary infrastructure for internet access and more.
When a politician promises to “fix that damn bridge,” and then Congress passes a bipartisan bill to do that and much, much more, that’s progress, and a demonstration of what can be accomplished when members act on behalf of the common good.