Under Buttigieg’s leadership DOT aims to transform more than just transportation

Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 11:15 AM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The country’s transportation secretary is stuck at home, quarantining for two weeks just one week into his new job. Gray T.V. Washington Bureau reporter Kyle Midura digitally connected with Sec. Pete Buttigieg to discuss the path ahead over the next four years.

In Buttigieg’s view, all policy roads lead back to his department. Four wheels are driving his policy agenda: safety, the economy, climate change, and addressing systemic inequality.

“Transportation isn’t always at the center of these conversations, but it should be,” Buttigieg said when asked how his decision to make equity a primary focus. He spoke of the need to understand mistakes of the past, from a refusal to invest in minority communities to bulldozing through them to create highways.

Buttigieg noted that equitable access to public transportation was at the heart of the civil rights movement, epitomized by Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat at the front of a bus.

Buttigieg echoes President Joe Biden’s calls for a massive investment in the country’s infrastructure. He said repairs will create jobs. Re-engineering how people and goods crisscross the nation can do the same and deliver a greener future.

“Climate change is a massive policy challenge,” he said.

Without offering specific standards, Buttigieg said he’ll push higher fuel efficiency requirements and a greater reliance on public transportation. Asked whether the latter can gain momentum in the midst of a pandemic, Buttigieg said, “a lot really depends on the traveling public.”

Whether catching the bus or flying across the country, he said passengers needs to mask up. Meanwhile, travel volume is down dramatically, compounding financial pressure on systems ranging from city transit to national airlines.

Even the government’s transportation fund is over-taxed, spending more than it takes in. The Biden plan calls for pumping two trillion dollars into new investments, but does not suggest exactly how to pay for it.

“There are a lot of different ways to get it done,” when asked about how all that cash could be raised. But, if Congress agrees to fund the investments Buttigieg said they will pay for themselves.

“You can’t get something for nothing,” he said, “but those investments will offer a fantastic return.”

Buttigieg says every potential revenue stream should be on the table -- like a vehicle miles travelled tax or pulling cash out of another fund -- except one. While he voiced an openness to raising the gas tax at his confirmation hearing, he has since walked that back.

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