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President Joe Biden visits Milwaukee as campaign keeps focus on swing states

Milwaukee, Madison get grants for street redesign projects

A U.S. flag hangs on the wall behind Pres. Biden as he speaks at a podium.
President Joe Biden speaks Wednesday, March 13, 2024, at the Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

President Joe Biden was in Milwaukee Wednesday to announce new federal funding for transportation infrastructure, his latest visit to Wisconsin coming the day after he and former President Donald Trump officially secured the delegates needed for a rematch.

Biden announced Milwaukee will receive a $36 million grant for a street reconstruction project city officials say will improve safety.

President Biden spoke to around 100 people gathered at the Pieper – Hillside Boys and Girls Club of Milwaukee late Wednesday afternoon, which is located on 6th Street, the focus of the reconstruction project. He said the work will connect the city’s south side to the north side. 

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“These are life changing improvements,” Biden said. “They’re also going to make it easy for historic Black communities in the north and Latino communities in the south to access jobs, school and entertainment opportunities in the city and central hub — from watching the Milwaukee Bucks play to attending the Milwaukee Area Technical College.” 

The Wisconsin trip was part of a series of campaign stops around the country where Biden is trying to bring a message to voters about his administration’s investment in infrastructure. The president has held events in Pennsylvania and Georgia over the last week, and will head to Michigan on Thursday.

Trump is also on the campaign trail, but has yet to visit Wisconsin.

On Wednesday in Milwaukee, Biden announced $3.3 billion for 132 infrastructure projects across the nation aimed at reconnecting communities that were torn apart by past transportation projects.

Milwaukee's Interstate 43.
Milwaukee’s Interstate 43 is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. Evan Casey/WPR 

Milwaukee’s 6th Street corridor is near Interstate 94/43. Construction for that project in the 1960s led to the demolition of roughly 17,000 homes and 1,000 businesses in the city, according to the White House. Biden said many other communities across the nation have been impacted by similar projects. 

“You’ve lived in and felt the decisions made decades ago. Today, today, we’re making decisions to transform your lives (for) decades to come, and we’re doing it all over America,” Biden said during his speech.

Milwaukee’s project will focus on a 2.6 mile stretch of the 6th Street corridor, from North Avenue to National Avenue. It’ll include work to widen sidewalks, install bike lanes and bus lanes, place new trees near the road and includes infrastructure work to prevent sewage from flowing into the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan. Construction is set to start in 2027, according to the Milwaukee Department of Public Works. 

“Part of what stood out about this project was how many benefits we saw all at once through the transformation of this 2.6 mile stretch of 6th Street,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said during a press call Tuesday.

President Joe Biden speaks Wednesday, March 13, 2024, at the Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

It was Biden’s ninth trip to Wisconsin as president and second so far this year, another reminder of the key role the swing state will play in the election. The visit comes as the 2024 presidential election is shaping up to be a rematch of the 2020 election, when Biden beat Trump by less than a percentage point in Wisconsin. 

Other state, national projects also won awards

Many of the other national projects that received funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods program are focused on  rebuilding communities, “including those that were divided by transportation infrastructure decades ago and have long been overlooked,” according to a statement from the White House. 

In addition to the grant the city received for work on 6th street, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation received $2 million to explore possible reconstruction efforts on West National Avenue in Milwaukee near Interstate 43/94. That study will “identify and evaluate alternatives to reconnect the neighborhoods and address safety and mobility concerns.”

President Joe Biden gives a thumbs up as he ends his speech Wednesday, March 13, 2024, at the Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The city of Madison received $1 million for planning and feasibility efforts for the Perry Street Overpass project. That project aims to reconnect Perry Street over the Beltline Highway, which was split during construction almost 70 years ago. 

In a statement, Wisconsin Department of Transportation Craig Thompson said the money will create a “tremendous opportunity” for the state. 

“Thanks to our federal partners, we have a tremendous opportunity to reconnect neighborhoods, create safer streets and improve pedestrian and bicyclist access in ways that meet the transportation needs these communities deserve,” Thompson said. 

Presidential race is heating up 

The visit comes as President Biden’s job approval rating is at 37 percent, close to the lowest level of his presidency, according to Reuters. In a recent Marquette University Law School Poll, Trump is leading Biden nationally among registered voters 51-49.

Biden’s visit drew criticism from the Republican National Committee, who called it part of his “Bankrupting America Tour.” 

“Joe Biden just proposed $7.3 trillion in wasteful spending and $4.9 trillion in tax hikes on the backs of Wisconsin families, so his attempt to save face for Bidenomics’ failures is laughable,” the statement said. “President Trump built a strong economy that delivered relief for families across the country, and he’ll do it again.”

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

Biden was in Superior earlier this year to promote the administration’s infrastructure investments. In August and December, he stopped in Milwaukee to promote the Inflation Reduction Act and efforts to support Black-owned businesses.

Last week, First Lady Jill Biden visited Waukesha to tout her husband’s position on reproductive rights. It was one of the first stops on her “Women for Biden-Harris” tour. Three days later, Vice President Kamala Harris was in Madison to announce an apprenticeship program for the federal workforce.