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Pete Buttigieg says ‘historic levels of funding’ coming to Kansas City to fix bridges and roads

Pete Buttigieg stands at a podium giving a speech.
Celisa Calacal
KCUR 89.3
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Kansas City, Kansas, Friday to discuss the Biden administration's infrastructure bill that was signed into law in November. Kansas is slated to get more than $200 million.

Buttigieg visited Kansas City, Kansas, on Friday to discuss how the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will modernize infrastructure across the U.S.

With the Rock Island Bridge as a backdrop, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday touted the Biden administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill to fund improvements such as roads, bridges and public transportation in places like Kansas City, Kansas.

Much of the money will go toward repairs for ailing bridges like the Central Avenue Bridge overlooking the Kansas River. Buttigieg said the bill will deploy “historic levels of funding” to modernize transportation.

“Here it's gonna help us build more electric buses to help kids get to school without being exposed to toxic fumes. It's gonna help us expand public transit to make commutes faster, and traffic lighter,” Buttigieg said at a news conference. “And most importantly, it will create that generation of good-paying union jobs on everything from replacing lead pipes to repairing these bridges to installing electric vehicle chargers.”

The Department of Transportation launched a bridge funding program this month that will provide $26.5 billion over five years, the largest investment for bridges since the construction of the interstate highway system under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Bridge repairs are needed in states like Kansas and Missouri, where trucks carry loads of goods and commerce across highways and bridges. U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, whose district includes Wyandotte and Johnson Counties, cited the Avenida Cesar E Chavez Bridge, which looms behind the Rock Island Bridge, as one needing repair.

“Because the Central Avenue Bridge was closed last year, due to fear of failure, this bridge has been doing a lot of overtime,” Davids said. “And it needs modernization to keep up with the demand. And we're going to need to add, and want to add, bike and pedestrian accessibility.”

The city has different plans for the Rock Island Bridge. The Unified Government is investing $2 million to develop the bridge into commercial and public space that includes restaurants, gardens, coffee shops and bike trails.

“This is going to bring even more of that life and culture and vibrancy … to our cross-state connection that we've got,” Davids said. “We're going to see people from Armourdale, the West Bottoms neighborhoods, celebrating local business, getting the chance to connect with each other.”

A picture of the Rock Island Bridge.
Celisa Calacal
KCUR 89.3
The Rock Island Bridge overlooking the Kansas River in Kansas City, Kansas. City officials are planning to develop the historic bridge into an entertainment and recreation area that includes restaurants, bike lanes, and gardens.

Kansas is slated to get $225 million from the infrastructure bill over five years, including $45 million in fiscal 2022. Much of that money will go toward repairing more than 1,300 bridges in the state that are in poor condition, said Kansas Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz.

Some 732 bridges in Kansas’ Third Congressional District alone need repairs, according to a report Davids published last October. Of those bridges, 21 are considered in poor condition by the Department of Transportation.

“Six of the top 10 most traveled structurally deficient bridges in the state are in the Kansas City area,” Lorenz said. “The investment that we need in our aging infrastructure couldn't have come at a better time.”

Missouri expects to receive $9 billion over five years for highway and bridge improvements. In an interview last November on KCUR’s Up to Date, Pat McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said some areas being considered for improvements include I-70 from downtown Kansas City to I-435; I-29 and the I-35 corridor in Clay County; and I-70 and Missouri 131 in Lafayette County.

Buttigieg’s visit came the same day a bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh, which President Biden was set to visit Friday.

“It is a very blunt reminder among many reminders of just how urgent the need is to invest in American infrastructure,” Buttigieg said.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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