RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- While the Biden Administration struggles with containing COVID-19 and rising foreign policy tensions, the president is able to tout infrastructure as a major achievement, and it comes at a most prescient time.
Friday's bridge collapse in Pittsburgh -- occurring the morning before President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit the region -- has once again put a spotlight on the nation's crumbling infrastructure, including more than 1,400 bridges in North Carolina designated as "structurally deficient."
"This is not just about fixing the system in the 1950s and trying to use them forever," Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told ABC11. "This is about preparing us across the 2020s for the future of how people get around, how goods get around, and how we can have a strong economy backed by excellent, safe transportation options for everybody."
According to the NCDOT, there are 18,877 bridges across the state, and more than 92% are in good condition. Those that are structurally deficient, engineers explain, mean the bridges and roadways need more attention and maintenance, including potential weight limits, but that does not mean they're unsafe for motorists.
"If it's judged the route is unsafe, it's shut down that day," NCDOT Spokesman Steve Abbott explained previously to ABC11. "It doesn't really matter if it's a two-lane road out in the middle of nowhere or if it's a bridge on I-40, it gets shut down. We do not allow an unsafe bridge to be open."
According to The White House, North Carolina is set to receive billions of dollars for local and statewide projects as part of the spending plan; a fact sheet provided by the administration reports there are 1,460 bridges and over 3,116 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 10.7% in North Carolina, and on average, each driver pays $500 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair.
Based on formula funding alone, North Carolina would expect to receive $7.2 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $457 million for bridge replacement and repairs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years. North Carolina can also compete for the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion of national funding in the bill dedicated for major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.
"Right now my department is working on making sure we get these dollars where they need to be," Sec. Buttigieg added. "More than $1.4 billion coming just to North Carolina for roads, just next year. We've got to make sure those dollars are spent well, that they're prioritized and we're fixing the issues that are most impacting people's lives and people's businesses."
Indeed, the infrastructure law is an omnibus package that also includes billions of dollars for public transportation, water and sewer pipes, broadband internet access, and much more.
"Of course, we've got to take care of what we've got but we've also got to build into the future."