Buttigieg touts $1.6 billion for Pa. bridges as part of Biden infrastructure bill

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Riverfront at the MLK Bridge to announce federal dollars to fix bridges in Pennsylvania on January 14, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Riverfront at the MLK Bridge to announce federal dollars to fix bridges in Pennsylvania on January 14, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

More than 3,000 Pennsylvania bridges in poor condition will be eligible for funding for repairs or replacement through a new federal program created by the bipartisan Infrastructure law President Biden signed late last year. U.S. Sec. of Transportation Pete Buttigeig announced the nationwide investment alongside state and local officials in Philadelphia Friday.

The new Bridge Formula Program will distribute $26.5 billion nationwide over the next five years, helping pay for replacements and repairs of up to 15,000 bridges, officials said. It’ll pour $1.6 billion into bridges in Pennsylvania.

“This has been a long time coming,” Gov. Tom Wolf said at Friday’s event. “We have a lot of roads. We have a lot of bridges, and we really need to keep building and fixing. … Bridges are the lifeline.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Riverfront at the MLK Bridge on January 14, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Pennsylvania has over 3,000 bridges in poor condition — the second most out of any state, according to federal transportation officials.

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“We have made considerable progress in improving bridge conditions in Pennsylvania overall,” said Yassmin Gramian, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “But we have an old state with old infrastructure and around 200 of the state-owned bridges moving to the poor condition category every year.”

Federal officials say the new funding will go to states through an existing needs-based formula, and state governments will decide how the money is distributed locally. Gramian said her agency has been working to identify projects in Pennsylvania that could be newly funded or accelerated using the federal money.

Officials announced the program Friday in front of the MLK Drive bridge near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The bridge is currently closed to vehicular traffic after an inspection last year revealed a connection in the steel framing had deteriorated, Mayor Jim Kenney said. Pandemic-related disruptions have since driven up construction costs for repairs.

“Delaying this project because a lack of funding would be an enormous burden on the communities along both sides of the river and cause unnecessary economic impacts,” Kenney said. “The bipartisan infrastructure law will help ensure this project stays on track.”

The MLK Drive bridge is just one of over 30 capital projects to reconstruct or rehabilitate bridges in poor condition that the city has identified, Kenney said.

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The new federal funding program aims to incentivize repairs of county and municipal-owned bridges by eliminating the local match usually required to access federal funds.

The MLK Bridge in Philadelphia is slated to receive federal funds for repairs, officials announced on January 14, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“That’s going to make life better for people across the country by the millions,” said Buttigieg.

Federal officials say Pennsylvania’s share of the new bridge money can begin to be obligated as early as next week.

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