Despite the pandemic closure of offices and commuting across the country for more than two years, America’s roads and bridges remain critical to its economic and social well-being, functioning as a circular system for goods and people. But like the ticker you find in the average American, our transportation system could use more routine inspection and maybe a few repairs if it’s going to be around four decades from now. The man whose job it is to make sure that happens, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeig, took to the SXSW stage at the Austin Convention Center last week to discuss the challenges his administration is facing.
that of the secretary He touched on a wide range of topics, starting with the projects his agency plans to focus on thanks to the recent passage of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, about half of which will go to transportation programs. “There are five things we are really focusing on,” Minister Buttigeig said. “Security, economic development, climate, justice and transformation.
“That’s why the department exists,” he continued. “We have a Department of Transportation first and foremost to make sure everyone can get where they need to go safely.”
But despite his agency’s efforts, the minister noted that about 38,000 Americans died on the road last year, compared to air travel, where “it’s not uncommon to have a year where it’s in commercial aviation in the United States.” there are zero deaths…I don’t know”. I don’t think it has to be like that.”
These investments will also help make the country more economically competitive. He points to China, that “Because it’s so important to their economic future,” he said. “That’s what countries do. That’s what the United States has historically done, except we skipped about 40 years.”
We need look no further in January to see the impact of nearly half a century of investment austerity on the nation’s roads. Hours before President Biden was due to speak in the city to no less promote his infrastructure plan when the increased span fell, he sent 10 people to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and protrusions to ensure the proper maintenance of its nearly 500 bridges.
Ensuring safe transport operations also promotes economic development, Buttigeig argued, “so we will make sure that we take advantage of economic opportunities through great transport opportunities, both in installing electric chargers and laying tracks.”
Dampening the capitalist urge that a functioning transport network seems to awaken are the agency’s climate goals. “Every transportation decision is a climate choice, whether we realize it or not,” Buttigeig said, noting that the transportation sector is the second most important source of greenhouse gases in the US economy, after the energy sector. “Not only do we need to reduce emissions from transportation on our roads, by making it so you don’t have to constantly lug around two tons of metal to get where you need to go, we need to prepare for the climate impacts that are already taking place .”
Minister Buttigeig also discussed how to share the benefits of these mitigation efforts and the incoming investment money as fairly as possible. “Infrastructure can and should connect, but sometimes it separates,” Buttigeig said, citing the nation’s history and “urban renewal” projects that have torn black communities apart for generations.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen this time and to ensure that the jobs that are created are available to all,” he continued. “Including fields that have traditionally been very male or very white but could be open to everyone. Lots of great middle class pathways through these types of construction and infrastructure jobs that are being created.”
Looking ahead, “I think the 2020s is going to be probably one of the most transformative periods we’ve seen in transportation,” Buttigeig told the SXSW audience, nodding to recent advances in electric vehicles, automation, UAVs, and privateers space travel to . “These things are happening, they are upon us, and we have the opportunity to lead the way to ensure that developing these innovations benefits us in terms of public policy goals.”
But despite the transport secretary’s excitement about those future prospects, he had no misconceptions about how long it’s likely to take to achieve them. “I get a lot of interviews where the first question is, ‘All right, what are we going to see this summer,'” he said. “I’ll say you’ll see more construction in some places as early as this summer because of this bill.”
This isn’t a 2009 stimulus plan where “the idea was to inject as much money as possible into our economy to stimulate demand and deal with high unemployment,” he said. “This is a completely different economic reality at the moment. And behind this bill is a very different purpose. It’s not about short-term impulses. This is about being prepared for the long term.”
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