Buttigieg points to Pittsburgh bridge collapse as blunt reminder of infrastructure spending needs

U.S. secretary points to poor condition of thousands of Kansas, Missouri bridges

By: - January 28, 2022 2:00 pm

U.S. transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg said Friday during a visit to Kansas City, Kansas, the tragic collapse of a Pittsburg bridge illustrated the necessity of federal infrastructure spending to make travel safer. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — U.S. transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg said Friday the collapse of a bridge in Pittsburgh illustrated the necessity of federal investment in the nation’s infrastructure, including more than 1,000 bridges in poor condition in Kansas and twice that total in Missouri.

Buttigieg braved winter chill to stand at the rusting Rock Island railroad bridge and the heavily used Cesar Chavez Bridge carrying vehicles over the Kansas River to outline benefits of bipartisan legislation signed by President Joe Biden expected to funnel billions of dollars into infrastructure projects in both states.

The secretary expressed appreciation to first responders and those injured in the incident. He committed the federal agency to support of the collapse investigation in Pennsylvania.

“Bottom line is this shouldn’t happen in the United States of America,” he said. “It is a very blunt reminder, among many reminders, of just how urgent the need is to invest in American infrastructure.”

Buttigieg said safety problems with bridges and roads across the nation was a result of disinvestment in public infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Transportation has been working to aggressively distribute funding to address safety and modernization priorities, he said.

“Right here in Kansas there are more than 1,000 bridges in poor condition,” the secretary said. “Over 2,000 across the state line in Missouri. We need to get to work right away. Instead of wringing or hands about it, we’re actually doing it.”

He said resources would be made available to repair 15,000 bridges in the United States to avoid orders for limited use and closure of bridges and the collapse of bridges essential to commuters and businesses. The federal government intends to focus on smaller, rural bridges as well as larger, well-known structures, he said.

“The biggest bridge investment since that son of Kansas, President Eisenhower, launched the interstate highway system,” Buttigieg said.

Based on formula-based funding, Kansas would expect to receive $2.8 billion and Missouri approximately $7 billion over five years in federal highway and bridge infrastructure funding. Both states also could compete for billions of additional infrastructure aid for roads, bridges, ports, broadband, emissions control and public safety projects.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., said massive investment in transportation and communication infrastructure would bring greater economic growth and better quality of life to the state's population. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., said massive federal investment in infrastructure — from transportation to broadband — would deliver greater economic opportunities and better quality of life to the state’s population. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Biden signed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill in November, but the measure stopped short of a full-scale overhaul of the nation’s energy and transportation systems sought by the president estimated to cost $2.3 trillion.

Buttigieg spoke to reporters and local government officials at a news conference with U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Tyrone Garner and Kansas transportation secretary Julie Lorenz.

Davids, a Democrat representing the 3rd District and the only member of the Kansas congressional delegation to vote for the infrastructure bill, said the federal law would earmark about $225 million over five years to repair and modernize bridges in Kansas. More than 700 bridges in the 3rd District of Wyandotte and Johnson counties need work, she said

“Six of the top 10 most traveled structurally deficient bridges in Kansas are in the 3rd District. With this new funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law, we can begin to clear the backlog of repairs and ensure that all our bridges are safe and sound for years to come,” Davids said.

She said closure last year of the Central Avenue Bridge over the Kansas River in Wyandotte County due to deterioration of truss members and fear of a failure put stress on the Cesar Chavez Bridge.

“This bridge has really been doing a lot of overtime. It needs modernization to keep up with the demand,” the congresswoman said.

Lorenz, secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, said the stakes were high in terms of the necessity of delivering on the promise of the federal infrastructure law.

“This type of funding doesn’t come around often,” she said. “The investment we need in or aging infrastructure couldn’t have come at a better time. We know we need to make travel safer.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.