Biden touts infrastructure bill at UWS
President Joe Biden made Superior his first stop following his State of the Union address.
SUPERIOR — The day after giving his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden told an invitation-only crowd on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus how the bipartisan infrastructure bill would impact the region and the nation.
Standing on a stage in the Yellowjacket Union Wednesday, March 2, Biden said the American Rescue Plan took the nation out of crisis and created 6.5 million jobs — more than any ever created in a single year — and the infrastructure bill is about investing in America.
"We know that when the middle class grows, poor people have a way up and the economy does very, very well,” Biden said. “Our rescue plan reflects that, but that's just the first step. We also have to invest in the country itself. America used to have the best infrastructure in the world, the best bridges. Now our infrastructure ranks No. 13 in the world. ... We can’t compete for jobs in the 21st century if we don’t fix it."
The president said the legislation will invest in clean energy and cars, expand broadband in rural and urban areas and fix 65,000 miles of highway and 1,500 bridges.
Biden said the Blatnik Bridge is fundamental to the Twin Ports, but at 61 years old, it has outlived its useful life.
The bill contains $40 billion in funding for bridges and $12.5 billion to fix the most economically significant bridges in the nation, Biden said. In addition, he said Minnesota and Wisconsin will each receive $5.4 billion for roads and bridges.
"There's 879 bridges in Wisconsin, 661 in Minnesota that are in poor condition," Biden said. "Now we're not just talking about it. We're going to get it done. Instead of an infrastructure week, we're going to have an infrastructure decade."
However, it’s not the only investment that will benefit the Twin Ports.
The bill includes $1 billion to clean up the Great Lakes, including the St. Louis River, the president said.
"One study found that for every dollar spent cleaning up the Great Lakes, you generate $3-$4 in economic benefit," Biden said. "There's more freshwater in these lakes than anywhere else in the whole world."
He said it's not the only investment in the Great Lakes.
"At the opposite end of Lake Superior, the Soo Locks connect the area to the rest of the world … 90% of American iron moves through those locks," Biden said. "That's why $500 million has been designated for the Soo Locks and $40 million has been designated for improvements in the Duluth-Superior Harbor."
Air Force One touched down at the Duluth International Airport at 12:10 p.m. Wednesday, two hours before his scheduled speech.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden were greeted on the tarmac by several dignitaries, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and Superior Mayor Jim Paine.
A blistering wind made for a real-feel temperature of just 11 degrees as the president and first lady descended the stairs at 12:32 p.m. They were accompanied on Air Force One by Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and White House infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu were also on the flight, according to a tweet from Politico White House reporter Christopher Cadelago.
The Bidens shook hands and exchanged hugs with the local and state officials and their spouses for several minutes before boarding the heavily armored limousine often nicknamed "The Beast." A motorcade of roughly 30 vehicles began pulling away from the airport at 12:38 p.m.
Paine and Larson spoke at the event, which local and regional lawmakers attended, as well.
"I told you Superior was moving up in the world," Paine said before the president took the stage. "I could not be more thrilled or honored to welcome the president of the United States to one of America's most important cities, and I mean that Superior, Wisconsin, is the future of the United States of America. After decades of decline, we are rebuilding the city. Every element of our city. We're building roads and bridges. We're building the most innovative broadband network. We are the greatest of the Great Lakes."
"It is such an honor to be with you all here today," Larson said. "Thank you, Mayor Paine, for hosting us, for hosting the country today, as we continue to work at building back better as a united Twin Ports."
Congressmen Pete Stauber, R-Minn., and Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., held a press call Wednesday morning ahead of Biden’s visit.
Although the two voted against the very infrastructure law Biden was in the Twin Ports to promote, Stauber and Tiffany said they were supportive of several key projects: the Blatnik Bridge project and St. Louis River areas of concern cleanup .
“I’m going to fight for those dollars that we deservedly need and want,” said Stauber, of Hermantown. “We have projects that are definitely community-priority projects and I’m going to fight for them.”
In a news release earlier Wednesday, Stauber said he voted against the infrastructure bill because it gave money to green projects and urban public transportation projects. He previously said he voted against it because it was tied to the now-stalled Build Back Better Act, a social spending bill.
“I’m definitely supportive of the Blatnik Bridge project that has been in the works here for a number of years,“ said Tiffany, of Minoqua.
Tiffany, who represents northern Wisconsin, credited the Trump administration with securing earlier funding for the Lake Superior Research Institute at UWS to study ballast water and cleanups along the St. Louis River.
“And I hope the Biden administration builds on those successes of the previous administration,” he said.
Gordy Smith, a member of International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Local 106, introduced the president before his speech.
"For many years, those of us in the building and construction trades have heard of this massive infrastructure investment,” he said. “Those promises never came. President Biden and his team finally delivered on that promise. The bipartisan infrastructure bill gives us the opportunity to rebuild public infrastructure and put another generation to work."
Superior City Councilor Tylor Elm called the visit "huge ... and exciting."
"I'm excited about the infrastructure — putting money into broadband — and certainly we can use that here in Superior and outside in Douglas County," he said.
Nicholas Ledin, also a Superior City Councilor, said the president's speech was inspirational and positive.
"It was great to hear," Ledin said.
Douglas County Board Chair Mark Liebaert said he was disappointed that Sen. Ron Johnson and Tiffany, both Republicans, didn't attend, but added they might not have been invited.
"He came here first; that's pretty good," Liebaert said of Biden.
The president’s speech left him optimistic about plans to reconstruct the Blatnik Bridge, Liebaert said.