Logistics industry groups are pointing to infrastructure rebuilding as a top priority for working with the incoming Biden Administration, following news Tuesday that former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg had been nominated as Secretary of Transportation.
Drafting plans to renovate decaying roads, rails, and bridges has long been a common goal of diverse transportation interests, but previous attempts to launch broad infrastructure initiatives have floundered on the thorny challenge of funding those expensive projects.
However, trade groups quickly renewed their call for infrastructure repair after Biden won the election in November, backing Biden’s plan to invest $1.3 trillion over 10 years on projects such as stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund to build roads and bridges, creating electric-vehicle charging networks, a national high-speed rail system, the development of low-carbon aviation and shipping technology, and infrastructure fortifications to withstand the effects of climate change.
Biden referenced those goals when he named Buttigieg as his choice for Senate confirmation to the job. “I am nominating him for Secretary of Transportation because this position stands at the nexus of so many of the interlocking challenges and opportunities ahead of us,” Biden said in a statement. “Jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate all come together at the DOT, the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better.”
While Buttigieg lacks a background in the transportation sector, a number of trade groups are optimistic that his government and military experience will allow him to chart a path through the administrative minefield that has defeated previous efforts to launch infrastructure renewal efforts.
“Having served as a mayor, Pete Buttigieg has had an up close and personal look at how our infrastructure problems are impacting Americans, and how important it is to solve them, Chris Spear, the president and CEO of American Trucking Associations (ATA), said in a release. “On behalf of the trucking and freight transportation industry, I’d like to congratulate Pete Buttigieg on his nomination to lead the Department of Transportation. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with him to begin the important work of rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.”
Rail groups also pledged to cooperate on rebuilding plans, according to a statement from Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR). “Former-Mayor Buttigieg’s forward-looking approach supported by data-driven decision making will serve him well as the next Secretary of Transportation. On behalf of AAR and the nation’s rail industry, we look forward to working with Mr. Buttigieg to modernize the nation’s surface transportation,” Jefferies said.
Likewise, the Consumer Brands Association said Buttigieg would bring a “fresh perspective” to the challenge. “The nation’s reliance on critical supply chains was laid bare during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a huge burden being placed on our transportation networks and the essential workers who help deliver for America,” Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, said in a release.
“Reducing congestion, addressing the truck driver shortage, and encouraging innovations like commercial autonomous vehicles to lower carbon emissions are just some of the issues we expect to be on the department’s radar screen. Especially with a new Congress and anticipated infrastructure legislation on deck, not to mention trends like the growth of e-commerce, now is the time to resolve chronic transportation concerns and leverage many of the lessons learned over the past year,” Freeman said.
And while political control of the Senate rests on the result of a pending January run-off election in Georgia, Buttigieg will at least have support for his efforts from the Democratic majority of the House of Representatives. In fact, the pandemic crisis may even provide extra leverage for leaders to make a deal on infrastructure, since the work would not only modernize outdated structures but also generate new economic activity to help the nation pull out of economic recession, according to Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
“As a presidential candidate, Pete’s infrastructure proposal for the country not only focused on fixing our existing roads and bridges, but also investing in the national passenger rail network, boosting public transportation, and investing in rural communities, all while putting an emphasis on 21st century needs such as broadband internet and electric vehicle infrastructure,” DeFazio said in a release. “The bottom line is with a forward-looking leader at DOT, our Nation has an incredible opportunity to create jobs, support U.S. manufacturing, reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector, and create safer, more efficient infrastructure by investing in transportation.”
If it is realized, that focus on physical infrastructure would mark a departure from the department’s direction during the Trump Administration, when it has been led by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. During her tenure, DOT policies have often walked a thin line between opposed interest groups such as industry, labor, and environment. Those sectors have debated the impacts of decisions like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s move to loosen federal restrictions on truck drivers’ hours of service (HoS) caps and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)’s call that U.S. railroads will not have to meet minimum requirements for the size of train crew staffs.
Having served as a mayor, Pete Buttigieg has had an up close and personal look at how our #infrastructure problems are impacting Americans, and how important it is to solve them. https://t.co/d3kBYWJ7Gj— American Trucking (@TRUCKINGdotORG) December 15, 2020
Mayor @PeteButtigieg is a leader, patriot, and problem-solver. He speaks to the best of who we are as a nation.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) December 16, 2020
I am nominating him for Secretary of Transportation because he's equipped to take on the challenges at the intersection of jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate.