What Pete Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary Could Mean for Construction
According to the U.S Department of Transportation, the Secretary of Transportation is responsible for overseeing the operating administrations of the DOT, and coordinating policies to provide an efficient and economical national transportation system. This person helps decide what roads, bridges, trains, subways, and more will be built.
Elaine Chao currently holds this cabinet position, and has since 2017. But with a Biden-Harris administration rolling in, the cabinet will surely look different next year. With this role being one of the most impactful to construction, it’s important to take a look at the possible outcomes of this appointment.
On December 15th, the Biden Administration announced the appointment of Mayor Pete Buttigieg to the position of Transportation Secretary. This comes as a surprise to some, as he was also in the running for a different cabinet position- Secretary of Defense. While Buttigieg has little national political experience, many construction associations are seeing this as a step in the right direction.
Let’s Talk About Mayor Pete
"It would certainly be good to have a former mayor from a city like South Bend in the post," said Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives for the Associated General Contractors of America said to Construction Dive. "He is in a unique position to understand how vital good transportation connections are to the success of local manufacturers, educational institutions and main street businesses."
Mayor Pete will definitely be tested in his new role, as one of his first and most pressing responsibilities will be a large bipartisan infrastructure package. But, things look promising for the construction industry. When Buttigieg was making his presidential bid early in 2020, he introduced a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which included allocations of funds up to $165 billion for the Highway Trust Fund. As Mayor of South Bend, Indiana he also led initiatives to make street and sewer systems “smarter.” Among other ideas, his bill also called for $50 billion for bridge repairs, and the creation of over 6 million infrastructure-related jobs nationwide.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Buttigieg would be not only the first openly L.G.B.T.Q. person to be confirmed to a cabinet-level position in the Biden administration, but the first confirmed in any cabinet, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that last month pressed Mr. Biden to appoint L.G.B.T.Q. people to his cabinet.
CNN reports, "Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation," Biden said. "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 added that he sees the Department of Transportation as the "site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better" and that he trusts "Mayor Pete to lead this work with focus, decency, and a bold vision."
The Road Ahead
The Biden-Harris administration has also laid out a stealthy infrastructure plan, that they hope will gain bipartisan support in the Senate. Democratic presidents have historically poured money into construction. From Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Project Administration (better known as the WPA) to Harry S. Truman’s Housing Act, to Barack Obama’s Recovery Act, Democratic presidents have looked to construction as a way to boost the economy and create jobs.
Additionally, Biden has made some dramatic promises when it comes to the environment. The promises are based on the premise that the world is on the precipice of a climate disaster and that the next twelve years are critical in determining the livability of the planet. According to Biden’s website, the goal is to “ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”
Construction companies that focus on retrofitting, or modifying an existing structure, especially for the sake of reducing energy consumption, would be kept very busy under the Biden administration.
Whether or not Mayor Pete ends up being the infrastructure hero we’d like him to be, there will certainly be changes ahead. Most industry experts, though, report that they see a positive future.
“It’s well documented that the construction industry is a significant contributor to most economic recoveries. And of course, construction relies in large part on public works funding. Based on Mr. Buttigieg’s previously documented support for significant infrastructure funding, this cabinet appointment appears to be one that should be favorable for our industry.” - Pam Hummel, Executive Vice President of Marketing & Industry at Briq.
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