Joe Biden’s reliably leftist Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, is about to be handed the keys to much of the just-enacted “Build Back Better” $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending package.
While he was recently using a press appearance to discuss the infrastructure bill’s promises of electric vehicles, urban trains, and new airports, he was asked about his plans for building “racial equity” into new infrastructure projects.
Buttigieg immediately pivoted into a discussion of how American highway designs have historically shown racially discriminatory intentions. He said that at least $1 billion of spending coming from the new bill would go to helping segregated cities and neighborhoods overcome racist designs.
The racial design of the infrastructure bill points toward Buttigieg’s political future. As a presidential candidate in the 2020 Democratic primaries, he struggled to find support among black voters. His new position provides him with an opportunity to shape his political resume among minority voters.
Republicans moved quickly to capitalize on the racial nature of Buttigieg’s comments. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called Buttigieg’s comments “weird stuff” and said that to him, “a road’s a road.”
Buttigieg now appears set to establish himself as a significant political figure in Washington. He will be in charge of administering the largest allocation of new money into public transportation since President Eisenhower ushered in the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
Of the $550 billion designated for new transportation projects, Buttigieg will charge the competitive grants that makeup about $120 billion of that amount. The current proposal for Biden’s “Build Back Better” budget reconciliation spending bill would send multiple billions more dollars to the Transportation Department.
Anthony Foxx served as transportation secretary during the Obama administration and said that the enormous challenge for Buttigieg will be developing multiple new operational details. Many programs will be all-new, and spending guidelines for state and local governments must be developed. Foxx said that the “high dollar figures” involved would create pressure on administrative staff. He added that the announcement of grant awards for hundreds of road projects and some multi-billion-dollar bridge projects will accelerate from now through at least the spring of 2023.