President Joe Biden visited La Crosse on Tuesday to highlight his plan to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure and invest in electric transit.
The president toured the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility facility, which is preparing to add two electric buses to their fleet this fall. The city received a federal grant in 2018 to purchase the buses and related infrastructure.
Electric buses are one part of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework touted by Biden during his visit. The legislation would allocate $7.5 billion for electric buses and other transit on top of $49 billion for public transit across the country.
During his visit to La Crosse to pitch the plan, Biden said it would be the “largest investment in public transit in American history.”
“A whole lot of people here in Wisconsin depend on public transportation like the bus system here in La Crosse to get to work, to school and to get around. Because of this deal, it would be easier, quicker, cleaner, more frequent and more reliable,” Biden said during his remarks.
Biden also highlighted planned investments for repairing bridges, replacing lead service lines in cities like Milwaukee and making broadband more accessible, especially in rural communities. He said remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how many families don’t have reliable internet at home.
“Tens of thousands of Wisconsin kids got left behind,” Biden said. “Did you ever think here in America that kids would have to sit in a fast food parking lot just to do their school work and homework because they can connect online?”
Biden also highlighted the infrastructure package’s funding for addressing PFAS contamination. It’s an issue that has been top of mind for La Crosse and the neighboring Town of Campbell, which discovered widespread contamination from the so-called forever chemicals in private wells last fall linked to the use of firefighting foam at the La Crosse Regional Airport.
“We’ll pay for that, we’ll get that done,” Biden said. “We’re also going to surge federal resources to help address the forever chemicals not just here but all across America. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is not unique in this problem.”
While the $1.2 trillion package is about two-thirds what Biden originally proposed for infrastructure, some congressional Republicans from Wisconsin say they’re still skeptical about the amount proposed.
During an event Monday in Milwaukee, Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said he did not support the infrastructure package.
“I’ve been saying for quite some time that we need to invest in infrastructure,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we’ve just spent $6 (trillion) to $7 trillion that we don’t have and just driven up our debt to just unsustainable levels.”
Johnson said a better solution to additional spending would be to re-purpose money from the last federal COVID-19 relief package for infrastructure investments.
The president’s visit to Wisconsin’s politically competitive Third Congressional District brought out both Biden supporters and backers of former President Donald Trump.
La Crosse resident Ron Anderson said he was glad to see Biden visit his community, which he described as “working class America.” He’s in favor of the president’s plans to invest in infrastructure like roads and broadband.
“You don’t have to travel far to see the condition of our roads in this country, failing bridges,” Anderson said. “It’s going to put a lot of people to work and we desperately need it.”
Anderson said he saw how important access to reliable internet was last year when his grandson was attending school online at home during the pandemic.
But Julie Beitlich from Stoddard said she thought Biden was “just here for show.”
“It’s just a bullcrap visit. He’s not really here to talk about anything,” Beitlich said.
She said she would be in favor of infrastructure spending, but not if it’s tied to funding for child care or health care like in Biden’s initial infrastructure plan.
“I’m totally behind the roads and bridges and upkeep of that because we do need that. But we don’t need the child care and health care part of that budget, that shouldn’t be a part of that,” Beitlich said.