WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, pledges to implement the government’s ambitious national infrastructure rebuild agenda, calling it a “generational opportunity” to create new jobs, tackle economic inequality and climate change contain.
“We need to rebuild our economy better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this,” the 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said to the Senate Trade Committee on prepared remarks for its confirmation hearing Thursday, May 21 January.
“You have my commitment that I will work closely with you to achieve the innovation and growth America needs in this area,” he said in the remarks.
Buttigieg, a former rival of the Democratic president whom Biden praised for his fresh ideas, was the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a cabinet position by the Senate. He was among the first cabinet selections to receive hearings this week when Biden calls on the new democratically-led Senate, which has the lowest majority, to quickly approve its candidates.
At a critical time in transportation, Buttigieg would take on the task of implementing Biden’s proposals, spending billions of dollars on major infrastructure improvements, and supporting retrofitting initiatives that can help the US fight climate change.
The coronavirus pandemic has devastated many modes of transport. Airlines, city subway systems, and Amtrak sought federal aid to help them stay afloat.
The Biden administration is also likely to reverse course on some of President Donald Trump’s measures to relax Obama-era auto emissions regulations while overseeing the Boeing 737 Max’s return to the skies following safety concerns.
“A good transport policy cannot play a role less than making the American dream possible and getting people and goods to where they need to be,” said Buttigieg. “But I also recognize that, in the worst-case scenario, misdirected policies and missed transportation options can exacerbate racial and economic inequality by dividing or isolating neighborhoods and undermining the fundamental role of government in enabling Americans to thrive.”
“There is so much at stake today,” he said.
Biden also wants to immediately mandate the wearing of masks on planes and public transport to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, and Buttigieg made it clear that this would be a top priority in the department.
“We need to ensure that all of our transportation systems – from aviation to public transportation to our railways, roads, ports, waterways and pipelines – are securely managed at this critical time as we work to fight the virus,” he said.
Still, it is Biden’s infrastructure plan, the full details of which are expected to be released next month. It is likely to get a lot of attention and be the biggest challenge like cost. Biden has yet to specify how he will pay for new infrastructure spending.
In addition to the usual transportation fixes, which are easier to promise than Congress administration, Biden aims to rejuvenate the post-coronavirus pandemic economy and create thousands of green jobs by making green retrofits and improvements to public works.
In his prepared remarks to the committee, Buttigieg pointed to his experiences as a veteran of the Afghanistan war as well as the city’s mayor, which are useful for a ground-level approach to improving transport. He described the initiation of a “Smart Street” program to make downtown South Bend more pedestrian and cyclist friendly while generating hundreds of millions of dollars in economic investments.
“I’ve worked with regional and state partners – and across the aisle – to support improvements to our inter-city train system and our now international airport, and we’ve pioneered public-private partnerships,” he said. “We achieved results by engaging people, engaging stakeholders and residents, effectively prioritizing limited resources, and unlocking new resources to solve problems.”
“So I will contact the Ministry of Transport when this is confirmed,” said Buttigieg.
During his four years in the White House, the Donald Trump administration hosted frequent “Infrastructure Week” events and extolled improvements in transportation. But it was unable to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive plan to update the country’s roads and bridges, railways and airports.
From Hope Yen, Associated Press