Biden pledges to fix decrepit U.S. infrastructure in bipartisan push

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden promised U.S. senators from both major parties on Thursday to work together to modernize aging U.S. infrastructure, after his predecessor Donald Trump failed to win approval for a major funding effort.

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Biden plans to ask Congress this month to invest heavily in infrastructure amid studies showing close to half of U.S. roads are in poor or mediocre condition and more than a third of U.S. bridges need repair, replacement or significant rehabilitation.

“We’re going to see what we can put together,” Biden said at an hour-long White House meeting that included Vice President Kamala Harris and key senators. “There’s a lot we have to do.... We just have to step up.”

The focus on infrastructure signals Biden, a Democrat, will seek to prioritize some policy areas that appeal to both parties, after his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package winds its way through Congress in coming days without significant Republican support.

“There are not many Republican or Democratic roads and bridges,” Biden said ahead of the meeting. “I really, honest to God, never have thought of ... infrastructure as being a partisan issue,” he added.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to say on Thursday how much Biden was seeking in infrastructure spending.

As a candidate, Biden in July 2020 unveiled a plan to spend $2 trillion over four years investing in clean-energy infrastructure. He wants to boost electric vehicles and high-speed rail.

Oval Office attendees included: Democrat Tom Carper, the Environment and Public Works Committee chairman; Shelley Moore Capito, the panel’s top Republican; Ben Cardin and Jim Inhofe, the top Democrat and Republican on the committee’s transportation and infrastructure subcommittee.

“The American people desperately want us to bring our roads, trains and bridges out of the last century and into the future,” Carper said in a statement.

Calling the discussion positive and substantive, Capito said in a statement: “We should be forward-leaning when it comes to tackling the transportation needs of today and tomorrow in a way that works for all communities, instead of a one-size-fits all approach.”

In her home state of West Virginia she said she wanted additional highway capacity, bridge improvements, innovative transportation technologies and expanded broadband.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who took part virtually, told Reuters last week the U.S. government must rebuild the transportation sector for post-pandemic times.

A Republican, Trump in 2018 unveiled an infrastructure plan that proposed spending $200 billion over 10 years to spur $1.5 trillion in largely private sector infrastructure spending but Congress never voted on it.

Last year, Trump’s White House drafted a $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan but the administration never publicly released it.

Funding for infrastructure projects has been a point of contention in recent years after Congress abandoned a decades-old policy of using fuel tax revenue to largely pay for infrastructure repairs. In 2019, Trump and Democratic congressional leaders agreed to spend $2 trillion over a decade, but he never proposed a new revenue source to pay for the upgrades and never made it a priority.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is in charge of the U.S. aviation system, highways, vehicles, pipelines and transit.

Reporting by Alexandra Alper and David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham, Howard Goller and Heather Timmons