« We are rebuilding America, » Landrieu told West Wing Playbook. « Laying the wires, upgrading the cars and making them, making the parts… it takes time to completely rebuild the country from the bottom up… but the people will see the benefits. »
The rapid repair of the I-95 bridge, as Landrieu sees it, was largely the result of the work of the Biden administration: the bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021 that provided funding for the repairs, strong coordination between the House Bianca and local leaders and the president himself direct aides to make repairs their top priority.
After the collapse, local officials became alarmed, as did Biden, no stranger to the area. In addition to commuter headaches, they were concerned about the impact on supply chains if the main East Coast land transportation artery was shut down for months, as many had initially predicted.
« When I woke up that Sunday morning, my phone had exploded, » said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), whose district was home to the collapsed bridge. « My first call was to the White House. » After getting in touch with senior aides including Anita Dunn and Steve Richetti, Boyle received a call from Biden « assuring me they would move heaven and earth. »
By then, Landrieu had already assured Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro that federal funding would be available from the infrastructure bill. Federal Highway Administration Administrator Shailen Bhatt was already in the field setting up a command center with local officials.
« The president called me that Monday and said, ‘Mitch, this is the No. 1 priority in the country,' » Landrieu recalled.
Inside the White House, Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon and the Intergovernmental Affairs team helped oversee coordination. PennDot’s Mike Carroll, a former state legislator who knew Shapiro and Boyle well from their Harrisburg days, had offered a potential quick fix: Use 2,000 tonnes of aggregate made from recycled glass to fill area under now collapsed bridge to reopen the highway on it.
PennDot already had experience using the glass material, which was available at a Delaware County facility just 17 miles away. Equally auspicious, there was a contractor working on the highway that officials redirected to the bridge repair effort. Time has largely cooperated. And there was no qualm about keeping the four local union crews working around the clock – and paying overtime – because federal funding was already in place.
“We had a team of people who knew each other well. Nothing can move that fast if no one trusts each other, so you have to build it,” Landrieu said. “This has allowed us to react very quickly when we have catastrophic events and the president says, ‘Run to that fire.’” .
Biden, who received written progress reports from Landrieu every day, joined Shapiro, Boyle and other local officials for a flyover and press conference the weekend after the collapse. In the Philadelphia area, people were fixated on progress. In addition to the governor’s daily briefings, Shapiro’s office organized a live stream so the public could watch the repairs. Reopening just 12 days after the bridge collapse has become cause for celebration—not quite on par with the Phillies championship parade, but close. The Phillies Phanatic and Gritty, the Flyer’s furry orange mascot, they were among the first to cross the street atop a fire truck.
« I have never received more compliments, » said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “I think the public relations part was handled quite well. I didn’t expect Gritty to be in the fire truck, but there he was. This was a tragedy because we lost that driver, but overall the way he came out, people were confident in their government’s ability to do something about it. »
Few states will be as critical to Biden’s re-election as Pennsylvania. But while Shapiro’s statewide approval rating is now at 57%. after I-95 reopens, President, which carried Pennsylvania in 2020, remains well below the 50% mark.
Sharif Street, Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman and state senator, said Biden, Shapiro and the city’s developers all deserve credit for the quick fix. But he said Biden in particular isn’t getting the kudos he deserves.
« He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for most of what he does, » Street said. “If a good thing happens, he only gets half the credit. If something bad happens, he gets double the blame.