‘These are issues that affect our families’: Pa. Dems call on Congress to pass infrastructure bill

Pa. is set to receive $11.3B for highway construction programs and $1.6B for badly needed bridge repairs and replacements

By: - August 26, 2021 12:34 pm

State Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, speaks during a news conference in Harrisburg, Pa. on Thursday, Aug 26, 2021. Kim, joined by Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick (R) and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale (L), called on Congress to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal (Capital-Star photo).

Back when he was mayor of Steelton, a blue-collar mill town on the outskirts of Harrisburg, George Hartwick oversaw a pipe replacement project for the borough’s water system. The pipes were so old that they were made out of wood.

“And that was just 15 years ago,” Hartwick, now a Democratic Dauphin County commissioner said Thursday, as he and state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Richard Bloomingdale gathered on the banks of the Susquehanna River to call on Congress to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill now pending before the U.S. House.

The setting for the press conference, held under a sweltering late summer sun, wasn’t an accident.

In addition to roads and bridges, the infrastructure bill also would pay for upgrades to wastewater treatment systems. In 2020, Capital Region Water, which serves the Harrisburg area discharged 584 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Susquehanna, PennLive reported. The river empties into the Chesapeake Bay, which faces environmental challenges of its own.

Steelton, a few miles downstream from Harrisburg, needs $10 million in upgrades to its combined water systems, Hartwick said Thursday, noting, “these are issues that affect our families.”

In Harrisburg, Kim said, residents have had to deal with the smelly and unpleasant reality of sewage in their basements during recent flooding. The windfall from the infrastructure bill would help pay for repairs to Harrisburg’s aging pipe system.

“We have all the projects backed up that will have resources, and we can upgrade our systems,’ Kim, a former member of Harrisburg City Council, said.

Democratic Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick speaks during a news conference in Harrisburg, Pa. on Thursday, 8/26/21. Hartwick, joined by state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin (R) and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale (L), called on Congress to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

On Tuesday, the majority-Democrat U.S. House muscled through a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, overcoming a standoff with a handful of Democratic centrists, and setting the stage for a late-September vote on the infrastructure bill, the Capital-Star previously reported.

According to a Biden administration analysis, Pennsylvania is in line to receive $11.3 billion for highway construction programs and $1.6 billion for badly needed bridge repairs and replacements. The state received a C-minus on a report card compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers for the overall state of its infrastructure, and a D-plus, specifically, for the state of its bridges.

In addition to that road and bridge funding, the state also is set to receive $2.8 billion over a five-year period to improve public transportation options statewide. That money is critical for strap-hangers around the Harrisburg region who depend on public transit to get to work, Kim said.

“If folks don’t have reliable and sustainable [public] transportation, they can’t compete for the good jobs and continued education,” Kim said. ” … We need this for Pennsylvania. When public transportation isn’t sustainable, rider fees go up, making it harder and more expensive for families to get around who depend on it.”

Bloomingdale, the labor leader, stressed the economic impact of the infrastructure bill, which would create tens of thousands of good-paying union jobs, and serve as a springboard to the middle class for those workers.

“This amount of investment is nothing short of historic,” Bloomingdale said. “It’s comparable to the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s, which led to an incredible expansion of the American economy. “

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.