Buttigieg Emphasizes Supply Chain, Safety at House Hearing
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WASHINGTON — The nation’s top transportation officer said the sweeping 2021 infrastructure law and other Biden administration initiatives are helping to improve freight connectivity and highway safety.
During a hearing of the transportation panel in the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 20, Secretary Pete Buttigieg pointed to ongoing programs and funding opportunities meant to expedite the flow of freight along the nation’s corridors. Such supply chain improvements have included expanding parking for the women and men who operate trucks.
“We’re strengthening supply chains to keep goods moving and reduce prices,” Buttigieg told House lawmakers. “Last week, I was outside of Salem, South Dakota, where we’re helping repair 28 miles of [Interstate] 90 — a major freight corridor — and adding new truck parking, which we consistently hear from truckers is their top priority to increase the safety and dignity of the job.”
Specific to safety, Buttigieg acknowledged attention needs to continue in order to address long-standing concerns. A federal agency estimated there were nearly 43,000 highway fatalities last year.
“I do want to be clear-eyed about how much work remains — on reducing roadway deaths, on making our rails and skies safer, on strengthening public transit and helping it adapt to post-pandemic changes, and more,” the secretary emphasized. “That’s why even as we keep full speed ahead to deliver good infrastructure projects, we also seek your further partnership in two critical areas: one, ensuring our transportation safety work can continue by preventing a government shutdown; and two, delivering further improvements that are achievable only through new legislation.”
An update of Federal Aviation Administration programs as well as freight rail policy reforms would lead to safety improvements, Buttigieg argued.
At the hearing, Republican lawmakers pressed the secretary on the implementation of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure law enacted in 2021. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA, provides funding boosts for the federal transportation system.
“We continue to hear about the need for more money for infrastructure investment, but it seems that you’re not spending the money you have already,” Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) told the secretary.
“You haven’t done anything substantial to expand new truck parking locations, so the problem still exists,” added Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), a sponsor of truck parking legislation. His bill awaits a vote on the House floor.
Today at T&I Committee (@TransportGOP) I asked Sec. Buttigieg why infrastructure funding is so slow to get to projects. Failure to quickly get money to projects often leads to delays which only creates higher costs - something I hear about often from state and local government. pic.twitter.com/kO1KD8bD3Q — Rep. Rick Crawford (@RepRickCrawford) September 20, 2023
Buttigieg’s appearance before the committee occurred as unions associated with domestic automakers are striking, myriad industries continue to report safety warnings and Congress is staring at the potential of a partial federal shutdown. Senate Democrats and House Republicans remain far apart on spending decisions for federal programs. Neither Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) nor Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has advanced a short-term funding fix that would avert a shutdown. Federal funding authority expires Sept. 30.
“This committee continues delivering bipartisan solutions for all Americans, thanks to the leadership of Chair [Sam] Graves. This stands in strong contrast to the chaos in [fiscal year] 2024 funding talks that threaten to end in a self-inflicted government shutdown,” Transportation and Infrastructure panel ranking member Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) told Buttigieg, adding: “Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your steady hand in guiding the department and the priorities Congress has asked you to implement.”
ATA President Chris Spear (left), Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (middle) and ATA Chairman Dan Van Alstine (right) are joined by drivers (from left) Dean Key, Tina Klein, Eric Stein and Paramjeet Singh. (American Trucking Associations)
On Sept. 12, Buttigieg was in South Dakota with trucking executives to promote the expansion of parking spaces for trucks. American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear was alongside the secretary for the announcement. He said, “This event is really a fine example of our industry coming together and government officials actually hearing the issues that our drivers face each and every day: spending nearly an hour looking for parking, losing nearly $5,000 a year in wages spent looking for a place to rest.”
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