Western Pa. Democrats see infrastructure investment as game-changer



Giving a sneak peek of what might be one of the Democratic Party’s marquee arguments ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, top officials in Allegheny County formed a unified front on Friday and deemed the $1.6 billion investment into Pennsylvania’s bridges a game-changer in connecting communities.


Joining a group of fellow Democrats, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the billion-dollar investment — doled out over five years — will help the region fix some of its notoriously troubled bridges that have been in need of improvements for years, including the McKees Rocks Bridge, the Commercial Street Bridge near the Squirrel Hill Tunnel and the Frazier Street Bridge near Oakland on the Parkway East.


“I could go on and on with all the bridges we have that have been delayed — the infrastructure’s been delayed — and how important it is,” Mr. Fitzgerald said from the lobby of the United Steelworkers Building.


The infusion of funding into the state’s bridges will begin with about $327 million this year, a sum that was part of the Biden administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill.


U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the bridge spending earlier this month in Philadelphia in front of a bridge that’s been closed to vehicles in the city since early 2020 because of deterioration. In an interview with the Post-Gazette, he said fixing thousands of bridges across the country should stimulate the economy and help fix supply chain problems.


The county Democrats said Friday that it was their party that delivered this massive boost to a state that has 3,353 bridges rated in poor condition, giving credit to Mr. Biden and local Congressmen Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, and Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, for helping get it through Congress.


“If the Republicans had their way, none of this would have occurred,” Mr. Fitzgerald said, adding that without the Democrats’ efforts, there would be no investment in rivers and waterways, mass transportation or broadband either.

Republicans who voted against the bill, including U.S. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Peters, and Mike Kelly, R-Butler, had said the investment goes far beyond the purpose of fixing physical infrastructure, and instead marks off items from the Democrats’ spending wish list. In particular, Mr. Kelly had cited the $7.5 billion toward building electric vehicle charging stations, something that he told the Post-Gazette would have built themselves if the market deemed them necessary.


Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, a Democrat joining the event on Friday, said the bill will connect Pittsburghers to jobs, and will bring transportation investments to neighborhoods that haven’t had them in years.


“I often talk about this being a city for all. It is this type of bill that gives us the opportunity to show we can move outside the silos and work together to build on infrastructure and transportation, from our waterways to our buses to our airports, to everything that touches people and connects us,” Mr. Gainey said.


Regional planning groups say they’re in the process of identifying which bridges will be included in the program. Allegheny County labor leaders are expecting the $1 trillion infrastructure investment to create about 40,000 union jobs here over the next few years.