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Pete Buttigieg has become the latest presidential candidate to release a comprehensive infrastructure plan.
The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., announced his $1 trillion “Building for the 21st Century” plan Jan. 10. In addition to repairing outdated infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, the plan aims to combat climate change and accommodate for the country’s anticipated growth.
Buttigieg plans to “inject” $165 billion into the teetering Highway Trust Fund, which assists states with maintenance and construction projects, to ensure the account remains solvent through 2029. The federal fuel tax, which supports the fund, has stagnated at 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel and 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline since 1993.
As a financing mechanism, Buttigieg will require the Department of Transportation to propose a usage charge system, such as a vehicle miles traveled fee. The plan identifies this system as a potential replacement for the fuel tax. Several states, including Oregon, California and Utah, have explored usage charge programs.
Jack Basso, chair of the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance, said such a transition would have to be phased in over a span of years, meaning there would need to be a period where the fuel tax rate is maintained.
“You have to have money in the bank. The gas tax is the most immediate way to do that,” Basso told Transport Topics. “I can see over time that, if we’re going to make that conversion, it would be a conversion that went over a period of years.”
Several states, including Oregon, California and Utah, have explored usage charge programs. Basso noted that Oregon was the first state to enact a fuel tax, which was introduced in 1919. Other states followed suit, as did the federal government.
Buttigieg plans to increase funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration to address unsafe driving behavior and strengthen enforcement. He also will double funding for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program, which helps fund road, bridge, transit, rail, port and intermodal transportation projects.
“This will empower cities and towns to pursue innovative projects that offer residents more options and modes of transportation,” the text of the plan states.
The plan also mentions that Buttigieg will create a Local Leaders Office within DOT, which will allow mayors, county officials, governors and tribal leaders to collaborate with agency experts. As a way to link communities, Buttigieg proposes a $3 billion per year grant program to help states and metropolitan planning organizations work together on projects of regional and national importance.
By encouraging states to participate in federal funding opportunities, Buttigieg plans to fix 50% of the roads that are in poor condition within 10 years. He also plans to create a $50 billion grant program to help states repair bridges. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association reports that 47,052 of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient.
Through the BUILD program and the American Clean Energy Bank, which is Buttigieg’s tool to help communities lead clean energy projects, funding will be made available for port modernization and streamlining the flow of goods from ports.
According to the plan, the DOT under Buttigieg would review every federally funded transportation project to assess how effectively it connects people to jobs and services and cargo to market.
Buttigieg pledges to make the federal government a strong partner for states, cities and counties, noting that major infrastructure legislation has stalled over the past few years. Despite pleas for bipartisanship from lawmakers and trade association leaders during Infrastructure Week in mid-May, any prospect of a federal infrastructure package seems to have dissolved. Many lawmakers have shifted their attention to the upcoming presidential election, rather than the Highway Trust Fund expiration date, which precedes it by just a few weeks.
Buttigieg’s plan is projected to create 6 million jobs. In terms of growing the workforce, Buttigieg plans to commit $10 billion to skill development and pre-apprenticeship programs. He also will create a National Infrastructure Accelerator, dedicating $100 million in grants to programs that introduce K-12 students to infrastructure and clean energy jobs. The plan expects that up to 50% of workers in transportation agencies will approach retirement age within 10 years.
“One of the greatest threats to our infrastructure is a workforce that is approaching retirement,” the plan states.
Buttigieg joins a field of fellow Democratic candidates who have released plans for infrastructure investment. In November, Joe Biden released a plan that calls for $1.3 trillion in investment over 10 years. In late March, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) released a $1 trillion plan that included $650 billion in federal funding. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has stated that infrastructure is vital to a green economy. In 2015, he introduced the Rebuild America Act, which called for $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over five years. In 2017, Sanders joined Senate Democrats in supporting the Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure plan.
The general election will be held Nov. 3.
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