By Lauren Schapker, vice president of legislative affairs, ARTBA
U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Secretary-designate Pete Buttigieg wants to build on the Senate’s 2019 bipartisan highway reauthorization bill, study new funding measures, and examine opportunities for additional project delivery reforms. These and other actions will provide a “generational opportunity” for transportation infrastructure investment, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor said during his Jan. 21 Senate confirmation hearing.
When senators asked about the Highway Trust Fund’s solvency, he suggested all options be on the table, including a gas tax increase. A spokesperson for Buttigieg, however, later walked back his comment stating, “a variety of options need to be on the table to ensure we can invest in our highways and create jobs, but increasing the gas tax is not among them.”
ARTBA will continue to support the gas tax and all highway user fee revenue solutions that would deliver the significant increases in federal highway and public transportation investment the country needs.
Among other priorities Buttigieg discussed during his hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation:
- Surface transportation reauthorization: Buttigieg expressed support for the bipartisan effort advanced in 2019 by the Environment & Public Works Committee, suggesting lawmakers build on it moving forward. In written answers to his nomination questionnaire, Buttigieg said the Sept. 30 expiration of existing surface transportation law is a “key moment” for action on Biden administration infrastructure priorities.
- Highway Trust Fund solvency: In addition to comments on the gas tax, Buttigieg noted Congress has used deficit spending to pay for transportation projects lately, but was unsure if lawmakers would continue that approach. He called for conversation about the long-term effectiveness of the gas tax and said a vehicle miles traveled program could be an alternative if privacy and technological concerns are addressed.
- Project delivery reforms: Buttigieg suggested he would support further streamlining or even removing duplicative steps in the permitting process as long as safety or the environment are not compromised.
- Innovative financing: Buttigieg would “enthusiastically” embrace actions to leverage state, local or private dollars, such as new incentive programs or advanced refund bond programs.
During the hearing, Buttigieg said his experience as mayor forms the basis for many of his views on how infrastructure investment can spur economic growth and job creation.
“We achieved results by bringing people in, engaging stakeholders, prioritizing limited funds effectively, and unlocking new resources to solve problems. And that’s how I will approach the Department of Transportation, if confirmed,” Buttigieg said.
Senators of both parties were largely supportive of his nomination, though a vote on his confirmation was not scheduled as this story was published.
Watch a recording of nomination hearing.