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Pittsburgh bridge to reopen less than one year after collapse with help from Biden’s infrastructure law

<i>Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>The Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh on January 28.
AFP via Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
The Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh on January 28.

By Katie Lobosco, CNN

A bridge in Pittsburgh that collapsed in January, hours before President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit the city to tout his landmark infrastructure funding law, is expected to reopen by the end of December.

The Fern Hollow Bridge may reopen to traffic before Christmas if installation of railings, lighting and line painting can be completed this week, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said.

The 447-foot-long, four-lane bridge fell about 100 feet into a park below early on a snowy Friday morning due to a “structural failure,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

A bus and four passenger vehicles were on the bridge when it collapsed, according to the federal safety board’s latest report. At least four people sustained injuries. The incident remains under investigation.

State officials, including Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, said that the federal bipartisan infrastructure law that passed last year is one of the reasons repair of the Fern Hollow Bridge is able to be completed in just 11 months after it collapsed.

The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package was signed into law in November 2021 after receiving bipartisan support in Congress.

“Thanks to new funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, $25.3 million in federal funds were made available for the project and the project was able to proceed quickly without affecting funding for other critical projects in the region,” Alexis Campbell, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said in a statement sent to CNN on Thursday.

Following the collapse of the bridge, the governor and mayor issued a disaster emergency declaration to speed up the repair process. This allowed the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to manage the design and construction. Once the project is completed, the city of Pittsburgh will assume jurisdiction over and maintenance responsibility of the bridge.

Some work will continue after the bridge reopens and is expected to last through the winter and spring.

Infrastructure law has funded repairs to 2,400 bridges thus far

It will take years to see the full impact of the infrastructure law, which provides funding for everything from bridges and roads to the nation’s public transit, broadband, water and energy systems.

The money isn’t released all at once. The law will provide roughly $550 billion of new federal investments over the next five years. Plus, major infrastructure projects — like building a new highway, adding a berth to a port or constructing a new airport terminal — take time.

But the fact that states and cities know the money is coming can allow them to move faster than usual, said Adie Tomer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who leads a team focused on infrastructure policies.

The Fern Hollow Bridge is just one example. The law has already supported repairs on more than 2,400 bridges, according to the US Department of Transportation.

“Without the new BIL funds, we would have been scrambling to find the money to quickly replace the Fern Hollow Bridge, and other important projects would have been impacted,” said Wolf in a statement released in October when Biden returned to Pittsburgh to see the bridge repair progress.

In Nebraska, a state transportation official told lawmakers on Tuesday that a long-delayed, 600-mile expressway system could be completed four years ahead of schedule.

The official credited the federal infrastructure law as one of the main reasons the department was able to accelerate work, according to a report from the Omaha World-Herald.

Here’s how the infrastructure law works

More than $185 billion from the infrastructure law has been announced and is headed to states, tribes, territories and local governments, with thousands of specific projects identified for funding thus far, according to the White House.

The funds are delivered in two ways: through formula programs that send money directly to states and through competitive grant programs that require state and local agencies to apply.

A lot of the formula programs have long been sending federal money to states on an annual basis, but are now delivering much more funding for the five-year period covered by the infrastructure law.

For example, the Federal Highway Administration released nearly $60 billion to states in October through 12 formula programs to support investment in roads, bridges and tunnels; carbon emission reduction; and safety improvements. That’s an increase of $15.4 billion compared with fiscal year 2021, the last fiscal year before the infrastructure law was implemented.

Dozens of major, specific projects have been selected for funding through grant programs over the past year. Funding for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program (known as INFRA), which is meant for freight and highway projects of national or regional significance, increased by more than 50% this year. About $1.5 billion was released for 26 transportation projects in September.

In August, the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, known as RAISE, released $2.2 billion for 166 specific road, bridge, transit, rail, port or intermodal transportation projects across the country. In 2021, the program could only afford to fund 90 projects.

The infrastructure law also created new funding programs, like the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program, which released $615 million to states this year. That money can be used for installing public electric vehicle charging stations.

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