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President Joe Biden visits Superior to tout infrastructure investments

Biden visited Superior where he talked about how his policies are rebuilding infrastructure, lowering costs, creating jobs

Joe Biden, Blatnik Bridge
From left to right: Labor officials, Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, and Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar applaud President Joe Biden for infrastructure investments near the base of the Blatnik Bridge in Superior on Jan. 25, 2024. (Danielle Kaeding/WPR)

As another tight race looms for the presidential election this fall, President Joe Biden visited Superior Thursday to tout how his economic policies are restoring crumbling infrastructure and creating jobs nationwide.

The president returned to Superior for the second time to promote how the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is providing a critical billion-dollar investment to replace a deteriorating bridge that serves as a vital link between the city and Duluth.

“For decades people talked about replacing this bridge, and it never got done – until today,” Biden said amid applause at Earth Rider Brewery in Superior.

Thursday marked Biden’s eighth trip to Wisconsin as president, highlighting the key role the swing state will play in the election.

Biden first visited the Blatnik Bridge after his State of the Union address in March 2022. White House officials say the bridge is one of roughly three dozen infrastructure projects announced Thursday that were awarded more than $4.9 billion, calling it a “transformational” investment that will support commerce, supply chains and create jobs.

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Joe Biden
President Joe Biden touts his administration’s efforts to rebuild infrastructure, grow the economy and create jobs at Earth Rider Brewery in Superior on Jan. 25, 2024. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Biden highlights his economic policies ahead of fall election

A $1 billion grant from the Biden administration will provide the vast majority of the estimated $1.8 billion needed to replace the bridge that first opened 62 years ago in December. Minnesota and Wisconsin have each committed $400 million for the project.

Transportation officials have warned the bridge could shut down by 2030 if it’s not replaced. Regular inspections and maintenance are conducted to ensure it remains safe for the more than 33,000 drivers who cross the bridge each day.

“This investment is going to make a huge difference. Less traffic, fewer car accidents, faster commutes to your jobs and schools, quicker response times from fire trucks and first responders when every minute counts,” Biden said. “Goods are going to get shipped quicker, and commerce will flow more freely instead of having to detour for up to 10 miles. Guess what else it means, it means (sic) 10,000 new construction jobs — union jobs.”

Gov. Tony Evers said growing Wisconsin’s workforce is critical for the state.

“It’s critically important any place in the country, and this is a perfect example of that,” Evers said. “We’re investing a billion-plus dollars, but at the same time we’re also investing in our future because of the workers that are going to be on that site.”

Elected officials have said the bridge carries nearly 265,000 trucks that transport nearly $4 billion worth of goods, serving as a critical connection for the largest port on the Great Lakes. Tim Nelson, owner of Earth Rider Brewery in Superior, said many of his staff, suppliers or customers live on both sides of the St. Louis Bay that separates Duluth and Superior.

“I’m a fourth-generation Twin Ports resident. I deeply understand the importance of the bridge that connects the Duluth-Superior community physically, financially and spiritually, I think,” Nelson said.

Transportation officials have said construction could begin in 2026 if funding became available.

The president used the trip to tout what his administration is calling “Bidenomics.” The White House said the economy has created more than 14 million jobs during his term.

“Unemployment has been lowest — been below 4 percent for the longest stretch in 50 years. And it’s even lower in Wisconsin, Minnesota where it stands at 3.3 and 2.9 percent, respectively,” Biden said. “That’s our economic plan. Invest in America. Invest in American products. Build in America.”

President Joe Biden greets Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Wisconsin Gov. Tim Evers.
President Joe Biden greets Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers after exiting Air Force One on Jan. 25, 2024 in Duluth. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Biden also touted a report Thursday from the Bureau of Economic Analysis within the Commerce Department that found the economy grew 3.1 percent over the past year.

The president’s visit comes as his job approval rating with voters was 40 percent in November, according to a Marquette University Law School Poll. The same poll found Biden was trailing former president Donald Trump as a general election rematch looms. 

GOP leaders cast dismal economic outlook among voters

Republican leaders in Wisconsin cast a more dismal view of the president’s performance on the economy. During a press conference Thursday ahead of the president’s visit, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany said it shouldn’t cost more than $1 billion to rebuild the Blatnik Bridge. He said Biden policies have made it more time-consuming and costly to build infrastructure projects.

“He’s shut down mining up on the Iron Range or is attempting to in northern Minnesota so that we can produce that steel right here in America,” Tiffany said.

The Biden administration has revoked mineral leases and a permit for proposed copper-nickel mines in northern Minnesota, as well as banned mining for 20 years across 225,000 acres of the state. Biden said Thursday that he, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and others are making sure that the iron, steel and construction materials for the Blatnik Bridge will be made in America.

Even so, Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson cited inflation rising to a 40-year high under Biden and its effects on Americans from higher grocery prices to mortgage payments.

“I’ve often said that if you were asked to develop a strategy to destroy this nation, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better game plan than what depression Biden has implemented,” Johnson said.

Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Brian Schimming said Wisconsin has lost 6,000 manufacturing jobs since February of last year. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows the state lost around 6,100 manufacturing jobs through October last year, but the state has since added another 1,600 manufacturing jobs. Schimming also touched on Wisconsin’s significance as a battleground state with voters this fall.

“Wisconsin is not one of 50 states this year. We’re one of about five,” Schimming said. “The truth is it’s going to be a very close election, no matter what. The president’s trip to Wisconsin today is a rescue mission.”

Biden won Wisconsin by roughly 20,000 votes in 2020 after Trump claimed the state by almost 23,000 votes in 2016. The state’s importance has been highlighted as Republicans chose Milwaukee to host the 2024 Republican National Convention.

Democrats have turned out in force in  Milwaukee and Douglas counties, where Superior is located. In 2020, Biden carried Douglas County by 9 points, and the president won nearly 70 percent of the popular vote in Milwaukee County.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Waukesha County Monday on the anniversary of the landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will be in Milwaukee Friday to tout economic policies in the swing state. 

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks with patrons at the Cedar Lounge in Superior on Jan. 25, 2024. Danielle Kaeding/WPR