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‘That damned bridge:’ Biden touches on Brent Spence during town hall in Cincinnati

The president was optimistic about passing a $1 trillion infrastructure bill currently before the US Senate.
President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 8:06 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The region’s most pressing infrastructure problem got a brief but impactful mention Wednesday during President Joe Biden’s stop in Cincinnati.

The president spoke on the country’s infrastructure needs and various other topics in a town hall at Mount Saint Joseph University.

Biden expressed optimism about an infrastructure bill currently before the U.S. Senate, responding “absolutely, positively yes” to a question about whether the bill can be passed.

“We gotta fix that damned bridge of yours going into Kentucky,” Biden said, prompting large applause from the seated audience.

He noted Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who is at the center of talks on the infrastructure bill, is in favor of the bridge project.

The Brent Spence is a vital component of our national highway system and one of its busiest by freight volume, carrying three percent of the nation’s annual gross national product.

Deemed in good condition by inspectors currently evaluating the bridge during a rehabilitation project, it nonetheless carries more cars per day than originally intended, earning it the Ohio Department of Transportation designation “functionally obsolete.”

The Brent Spence Bridge corridor project focuses on adding a second bridge beside the current one to relieve traffic.

Progress is happening slowly on the initial phases in Ohio. ODOT has committed $130 million in state TRAC grants for approach work. Property acquisition and utility relocation are underway, with detailed design work scheduled to begin later this year. But the lack of significant local and federal funding sources has long hamstrung the project.

Local politicians on both sides of the river have speculated the bridge could be part of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

Republican senators earlier Wednesday voted down an effort to open debate on that bill, signaling a temporary setback for the deal brokered with Biden last month.

Twenty-two senators including Portman released a bipartisan statement afterward touting “significant progress” with a “final agreement” near.

“We will continue working hard to ensure we get this critical legislation right – and are optimistic that we will finalize, and be prepared to advance, this historic bipartisan proposal to strengthen America’s infrastructure and create good-paying jobs in the coming days. We appreciate our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and the administration, working with us to get this done for the American people.”

Biden in the town hall said he takes his Republican colleagues at their word and expects a vote to begin debate on the bill Monday.

The president also took questions on COVID-19, inflation, political divisiveness and the current labor market.

Biden said the economy is not “overheating” due to inflation but is rather experiencing a price reset following a historic and uniquely temporary downturn.

“The vast majority of the experts, including Wall Street, are suggesting it’s highly unlikely that there will be long-term inflation that will get out of hand,” he said. “There will be near-term inflation as everything picks back up.”

Biden took a question from John Lanni, founder of Thunderdome Restaurant Group, on incentives to get folks back to work.

The president noted economic stimulus kept restaurants like Lanni’s in business during the pandemic before conceding the reality of a worker shortage. He noted the tourism and restaurant industries could be “in a bind for a while.”

“It’s just a matter of people deciding now they have an opportunity to do other things,” he said.

Before the town hall, Biden toured an electricians training facility on Glenway Avenue.

The facility was once a Circuit City and is now backed by IBEW Local 212. Currently, it trains people how to do commercial and residential industrial work, a sector with workers in high demand, according to our media partners at the Enquirer.

The president said “unions are the best” when it comes to training and that they “built the middle class.” He also said without electricians the country would “come to a halt.”

As he left he took one shouted question on whether he will get that infrastructure deal. The president replied, “Yes, we will.”

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