Wed. May 25th, 2022

A bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh on Friday, just hours before US President Joe Biden flew to the city to discuss the country’s infrastructure needs and to pass a law to fund improvements to roads, bridges and other critical equipment. set.

Shortly after his arrival in Pittsburgh, Biden traveled by motorcade to the bridge site and stayed for about 15 minutes, investigating the damage with local, state, and congressional officials.

“We were so far behind in infrastructure, it’s staggering,” Biden told other officials. He also spoke to first-responders who described hearing a loud bang at the time of the crash.

“There are more bridges in Pittsburgh than any other city in the world,” the US president said. “And we are going to fix them all. Not a joke. ”

Biden’s visit to the city in western Pennsylvania comes three months after he signed the $ 1.2tn infrastructure law, which received rare bipartisan support for what the president called “the most significant investment in roads and bridges in the last 70 years.”

The bridge, which collapsed early Friday morning, has been described by local officials as a main artery to the city, and national and Pennsylvania state inspectors have listed it as in “poor” condition for years.

An aerial photo of the collapsed bridge on Forbeslaan in Pittsburgh © AP

The 50-year-old bridge on Forbeslaan cracked to pieces shortly before 07:00 on an icy, snowy day and stranded a public transport bus and then got stuck. Photos of the crash site showed four vehicles in the gorge under the bridge.

Darryl Jones, head of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Services, said two passengers on the bus – which swayed on the brink of collapse – and its driver were evacuated by rescue workers who jumped about 100 to 150 feet into the gorge. Authorities said a total of 10 people were injured, including first aid workers who slipped on the icy hills.

UPMC, a health care system in Pittsburgh, said four adults involved in the bridge collapse were receiving treatment at two of its hospitals. Everyone was in fair condition, UPMC spokeswoman Andrea Kunicky said in an email.

Jones said a “massive gas leak” had developed, and gas supplies had been cut to households across Pittsburgh’s East End. The cause of the crash is being “investigated”, Jones said.

Local and government officials rushed to the scene. Rich Fitzgerald, district chief of Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, said the White House and Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, called for updates. Pennsylvania was a crucial swing state in the 2020 presidential election, and midterm races for Congress in some cases attract a record number of candidates.

“Fortunately, the injuries at this stage are not life-threatening,” Fitzgerald said during a press briefing. But, he added, “a lot of work is going to have to be done”.

Adam Brandolph, spokesman for the Allegheny County Port Authority, said the bridge collapsed at two different locations. The 22-ton bus will likely have to be cut in half to be removed, he added.

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, a Democrat, stressed that the two-party funding bill for roads and bridges was “critical.”

“Today is significant,” he said. “At the end of the day we could have had serious injuries. . . It is critical that we get that funding. ”

The White House said in a statement that Biden’s team was in contact with local officials who “continue to gather information on the cause of the crash”.

Transport investments make up more than half of the approximately $ 550 billion in new spending provided for by the new law. The money will be spent over five years on roads, bridges and tunnels as well as airports, broadband and other infrastructure improvements.

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