SUPERIOR, Wis. — On the heels of his first State of the Union address, President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden made a trip to Wisconsin Wednesday to talk about infrastructure, specifically the Blatnik Bridge that connects Duluth to Superior, Wisconsin.
The president touted his Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, or BIL, that provides $40 billion for bridge investments, including $27.5 billion for states to repair and rehabilitate bridges. Another $12.5 billion is earmarked for a competitive grant program, the Bridge Investment Program, that focuses on replacing the most economically significant bridges in the country.
That's where the Blatnik Bridge comes in.
More than 33,000 vehicles cross the bridge jointly owned by MnDOT and WisDOT every day, but it's nearing the end of its usable life. It was built in 1961, and because of the deteriorating condition, there are load restrictions in place that bar vehicles heavier than 40 tons from crossing.
With that weight limit in place, large trucks and other heavy-weight vehicles can't pass, and that's a serious limit when you consider all the agriculture, forestry, mining, manufacturing, construction and power generation that happens in that area.
According to the American Road and Transportation Builders of America, 618 bridges in Minnesota, or 4.6%, are classified as structurally deficient, meaning one of the key elements of the bridge is in poor or worse condition. In Wisconsin they have 14,307 bridges and 987, or 6.9%, are classified as structurally deficient.
While most of President Biden's time was actually spent on the Wisconsin side of the Twin Ports, Minnesota Republicans said he owed people on our side of the border some answers.
“As the President travels through our state on the way to another taxpayer-funded campaign stop, he should take time to face the voters of Minnesota and answer for the massive failures of his Administration," said Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman David Hann in a released statement. "President Biden has attacked Minnesota mining jobs and affordable energy, put the squeeze on families and businesses by driving up inflation to an all-time high, and overseen a massive crime wave of historic proportions. Today, the President has a lot to answer for to the people of Minnesota.”
During his SOTU speech Tuesday night, President Biden president highlighted investments in bridge construction from November’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law as an example of government reaching consensus and delivering change.
Vice President Kamala Harris and other top Biden administration officials also fanned out across the country as part of the customary post-State of the Union blitz, with each calibrated for maximum political impact as Democrats try to build momentum ahead of November’s midterm elections.
Vice President Kamala Harris was in North Carolina, a swing state that remained out of reach for Democrats in the last election, to visit an apprentice training program for union electrical workers. She was joined by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, one of several Cabinet officials who were traveling on Wednesday.
One of the most notable trips was made by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who rarely makes appearances with political undertones. She touched down in Chicago, where she was expected to speak at the University of Illinois' campus in the city.
Biden's proposals to expand educational opportunities, enact financial incentives for fighting climate change and limit the cost of prescription drugs failed to advance in Congress last year.
Although many of his goals remain the same this year, Biden appears to be rebranding his initiatives. He didn’t use the phrase “Build Back Better,” the name of his stalled legislation, in his State of the Union address, and the White House said Biden would be talking about “Building a Better America” on Wednesday.
He's also looking to salvage his sagging approval ratings and lift Democrats' spirits as they try to limit their losses in November, when Republicans are poised to retake control of Congress. The White House has said that Biden plans to spend more time traveling this year to promote his administration's plans.
“He’s got to take his message above and beyond the national press, and the chattering class of the northeastern corridor,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster. “He’s got to hit the local television networks, he’s got to get into the local paper.”
Belcher encouraged Biden to take a page from President Ronald Reagan, who promised “morning in America," at a time when polls show voters are pessimistic about the future.
“He’s got to be cheerleader in chief," he said. "He’s got to make Americans feel better.”
Other trips are highlighting a mix of administration successes and pending proposals.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan planned to promote investments in water infrastructure during a visit to South Carolina, while Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was headed to Connecticut to talk about funding for tribal communities to expand broadband internet access and repair roads.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was going to Kentucky to tour a solar farm and participate in a roundtable discussion about clean energy investments across Appalachia.
More trips are coming up.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra heads to Manchester, N.H., on Friday to pitch Biden’s new initiatives on mental health, along with other administration priorities on COVID-19 vaccination and health equity.
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