WASHINGTON – Today, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing to confirm the Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary-Designee Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) encouraged Buttigieg’s swift confirmation, highlighting the need to strengthen transportation safety measures and invest in transportation infrastructure. Klobuchar emphasized the importance of building quality, accessible transportation networks and ensuring that rural communities have access to critical transportation infrastructure grant funding and high-speed broadband. Klobuchar also raised the importance of the DOT’s Recreational Trails Program, which provides funding to states to develop and maintain outdoor recreational trails.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you very much, Senator Cantwell and thank you to Senator Wicker. Welcome, Mayor Pete. I want to thank you for being here. I think you know how excited I am about your nomination and what a great transportation secretary you will be. I know you well and I can attest to all my colleagues what a forward thinking and thoughtful secretary you will truly be in a very important area for all of us and for our nation. John and I also look forward to seeing you and Chasten in a less formal setting outside of this hearing room.
I appreciate what you said about transportation safety. It was in my state that the 35W bridge collapsed in the middle of a summer day. A bridge just shouldn’t fall down in the middle of America. We lost 13 people and many injured. And I guess I would start with that. Can you talk about your priorities for safety? You mentioned to the incoming chairwoman and I agree with her about rail crossings/aviation but maybe you want to talk about bridges a little. You and I talked about the Blatnik Bridge going from Duluth to Superior, Wisconsin – the second largest bridge in my state that needs rehabilitation; we need to do work on that. Just any comments you have on bridge safety as well as in general.
Mayor Buttigieg: Yes, first of all, thank you for the kind words and warm welcome. I agree, I remember how outspoken you were at the time of that bridge collapse and that just shouldn’t happen, as you’ve said. So often states, counties, and other local governments are expected to maintain these bridges but don’t have the resources to do it. It’s another example of how we need major and significant investment as a safety concern to enhance, upgrade and maintain bridges and other key critical infrastructure assets across the country
Sen. Klobuchar: … that is not going to be all under your jurisdiction. The one important piece of it is, which is how we figure out as we invest in more broadband (which we know we so sorely need - through this pandemic and before) and I know you’ve devoted a lot of thoughts to this. We also need, when we do road construction, we can do a better job of laying the broadband lines at the same time – it’s called Dig Once. I wonder what thoughts you have on that.
Mayor Buttigieg: This is very important in my own community. Parts of South Bend have phenomenal Broadband fiber connectivity for the very reason that someone remembered to lay conduit alongside some of the railway and highway rideaways that connected us to Chicago to the west. Even if this is being driven by another department, I would welcome the opportunity to make sure that DOT’s side of the operation is open to supporting that broadband deployment because it is so important in so many communities.
Sen. Klobuchar: One thing I know you also understand is the rural areas. You have big rural areas in Indiana and Senator Thune touched on this a bit but for Bill Grab’s Capital Investment Grants just talk about your priorities to making sure those go out in rural areas. We have a lot – I see Senator Tester here – we have a lot of Senators here with areas with significant rural areas.
Mayor Buttigieg: There are several things I think we can do to make sure rural areas have access and equitable access to those grants. One is to make them more user friendly. Another is to make sure the criteria are very clear and that there is feedback. We know how it is for my community to be a runner up sometimes in these processes. The better your feedback is, the more you can come back next time and have a better shot at it. Of course, the more resources go in to begin with, the more folks can get a favorable answer to begin with.
Sen. Klobuchar: Sometimes I think going back to what used to be called EarMarks, they could be called Congressionally Initiated Projects, would be helpful, especially for some of the rural areas, because we have a good sense of what’s going on in our states. You have done the work with Smart Streets, your initiative to help improve safety, revitalize downtown South Bend. On a bipartisan basis, I’ve been leading that recreational trails funding and I – thank you for the note about my hair sticking straight up; that was very nice and subtle – In any case, the recreational trails project is something that – the program applies to both recreational vehicles that are non-motorized and motorized, like snowmobiles/ATVs. We’ve worked this interesting coalition with non-motorized/motorized for bikes and other things as well. So, could you talk a little bit about that? That funding has been really important, especially in this pandemic where people are looking for recreation like that.
Mayor Buttigieg: Yes, and thanks for your leadership on this. There are so many ways that people get around and I think often we’ve had an auto-centric view that has forgotten, historically, about all of the different modes. We want to make sure any time we are doing a street design that it enables cars and bicycles and pedestrians and businesses and any other mode to coexist in a positive way and we should be putting funding behind that.
Sen. Klobuchar: Alright, excellent. As I said, we are excited that you are willing to serve and look forward to working with you. Thank you.