White House infrastructure czar visits Milwaukee to talk lead pipes

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure czar, Mitch Landrieu, stopped in Milwaukee to tout the benefits of the federal $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan for the city.

Landrieu’s visit came as city officials hoped to use funds from the infrastructure plan to significantly speed up lateral lead replacement to ensure safe drinking water and help combat Milwaukee’s longstanding problem of lead poisoning in children.

Jamel, 6, left, receives a surprise visit from White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu, right, Wednesday, July 13, 2022, before a news conference at which Landrieu spoke on President Joe Biden's bipartisan infrastructure bill.  Lead pipe replacement work is underway outside the youth home on South 12th Street in Milwaukee.

“Across America, this work is actually being done,” Landrieu said at a news conference Wednesday at a lead pipe replacement job site south of the city.

The sweeping plan Biden signed into law in November is the country’s largest infrastructure investment in decades. It aims to address almost every aspect of America’s infrastructure, including water, public transportation, roads, bridges, ports, railroads, electricity, and broadband internet.

“We will talk about improving roads and bridges. We will talk about high speed internet. We’re going to talk about jobs,” Landrieu told the Journal Sentinel ahead of his visit. “We will essentially be talking about lead pipes because all children have the right to drink clean drinking water.”

Landrieu, the White House infrastructure coordinator, joined Mayor Cavalier Johnson, US Rep. Gwen Moore and others on Wednesday afternoon.

White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, right center, is joined by Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, on his left, Wednesday, July 13, 2022 to tour a construction site where the replacement of lead pipes in South 12th Street in Milwaukee was underway.  Landrieu was visiting Milwaukee to speak about President Joe Biden's bipartisan infrastructure bill, which provides for the rebuilding of America's infrastructure, which includes improving roads and bridges, replacing lead pipes to provide clean water, and expanding high-speed rail.

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Johnson said the Infrastructure Act offers “generational opportunities” for the city and state.

“The bipartisan infrastructure bill created, for the first time, a dedicated funding source for line service replacement and is a much-needed boost to Milwaukee’s program,” he said, adding it would create family-supporting union jobs in the city.

And he pointed to the various sources of lead poisoning, including paint in older homes, soil and lead supply lines.

A Johnson spokesman said the federal infrastructure law will allow the city to “significantly expedite” lead pipe replacements, but gave no figures to the Journal Sentinel.

Nearly 70,000 lead lines remain in the city, and it is estimated that replacing all of Milwaukee’s lead lines, on both public and private property, will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Lead poisoning can have lifelong consequences, especially for young children, and there is no safe level of exposure. Sources include paint chips and pipelines carrying potable water.

Lonny Mitchell, left, speaks with White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu, left, before a news conference Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at South 12th Wtreet, where lead pipe replacement is underway.  Mitchell is part of the work team working on the site.

The city expects to figure out this fall how to access some of the roughly $48 million Wisconsin has been allocated for 2022 mainline replacements.

The state is expected to receive additional funding for line service replacement in the coming years.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks with Deanna Branch, who spoke at a news conference about the challenges of raising her sons Aiden, 9, and Jaidyn, 11, who have both suffered lead poisoning, and how it is affecting their family on Wednesday 13 July.  2022, on South 12th Street in Milwaukee.

The White House says the infrastructure bill will include the following investments for Wisconsin:

  • Funded $5.2 billion for highway repairs and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs.
  • Provided more than $590 million for public transit and $79 million to expand Wisconsin’s EV charging network.
  • Providing high-speed Internet to approximately 318,000 Wisconsinites who currently have no access.
  • Spend $841 million to eliminate lead plumbing in Wisconsin and provide clean drinking water in the state.

Contact Mary Spicuzza at (414) 224-2324 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @MSpicuzzaMJS.

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