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U.S. releases first $5.5B to repair, replace crumbling bridges

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U.S. releases first $5.5B to repair, replace crumbling bridges
President Joe Biden announces how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will rebuild America's bridges in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House on Friday. The administration released $5.5 billion, the first-year amount of a larger $26.5 billion, five-year investment to replace and repair bridges. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 14 (UPI) -- The Biden administration released $5.5 billion in federal funding on Friday to help repair or replace thousands of bridges across the country.

The money is from the first year of a larger, five-year, $26.5 billion commitment announced by the Department of Transportation.

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The Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation, Preservation, Protection and Construction Program will be administered by the Federal Highway Administration.

"$12.5 billion of that is going to replace the most economically significant bridges in the country," Biden said during a news conference Friday, mentioning the Interstate 5 Columbia River crossing, which connects Washington and Oregon, as an example.

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"The bill includes the largest investment in our nation's bridges since the introduction of the interstate highway system. Across our country now, there are 45,000 bridges that are in poor condition."

The president painted a picture of the current state of the country's infrastructure, mentioning an often-publicized rail bridge in New Jersey.

"[It is] the busiest rail bridge in the Western Hemisphere. But because it's not tall enough for ship traffic, it has to swing open to let barges through. And sometimes when it closes, the rails need to be manually sledgehammered into place," said Biden, noting the delays that come with such a procedure.

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The funding also includes billions to cover repair smaller "off-system" bridges, which aren't directly connected to the interstate system and aren't the responsibility of the federal government.

"Because maintaining these bridges is often the responsibility of counties or towns that can't afford to do it," Biden said.

"We decided to get rid of the requirement that counties or towns share in the [repair] cost. The federal government is going to pay for 100% of the cost of repairing these small bridges."

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Biden spoke of one such bridge he visited in New Hampshire, pointing out that if it weren't upgraded, weight restrictions would mean school buses and fire trucks would have to travel an additional 10 miles out of the way to get to the other side of the river.

The funding will provide $26.5 billion to states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico over five years, along with $825 million for tribal transportation facilities.

Funding was made possible by the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Biden signed in November.

States that will receive the most funding include Pennsylvania, Illinois, California and New York.

Biden said there is work to be done, but that the economic investments will pay dividends.

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"We'll get back to beating the world again. We'll once again be number one in the world instead of where we sit now at number 13 in terms of the quality of our infrastructure. These investments are consequential. We are just getting started," he said.

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