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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on what to expect from infrastructure plan


President Biden calls it historic, legislation allowing for more than a trillion dollars of spending on public works; 110 billion of it will be poured into roads, bridges and other transportation programs. We're joined now by the secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for being with us.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Glad to be with you. Good morning.

SIMON: How soon will we see this begin to take shape, shovels going into projects and stuff?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, you know, right now there are projects that have been waiting for the funding and ready to go. So we've got a lot of means - you might call it the plumbing of our department - where we can just push more through it and get results quickly. I'm talking about things like the formulas that get road funding and transit funding out to communities.

Now, other things are going to take longer. We're standing up whole new programs when it comes to funding to reconnect communities that have been divided by sometimes discriminatory construction in the past, or the work that we need to do to set up a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers. So safe to say there will be work immediately and for years to come.

But that was the point. This is a little different from the 2009 stimulus, where it was all about an immediate stimulus to the economy. This is about the short term and the long term, which is why you hear the president talk about wanting to look back on this moment 50 years from now as the moment when we decided to win the 21st century as a country.

SIMON: You have been mayor of an American city. What do cities need?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, you know, it starts with the very basics. And before we even get into the transportation piece that I work on, everybody needs water in order to live. And no child, no parent of any child should fear for their safety because there might be lead in those pipes. So I think a lot of cities, a lot of mayors will be cheering this element of the bill that will get all of the lead out of all of the pipes taking water to our kids. Same thing with broadband, energy grid infrastructure that'll affect cities.

But, of course, as the transportation secretary and as a former mayor, I'm especially excited about what we can do with more funding for roads and bridges, more funding for transit that connects so many people to opportunity. These EV chargers - you know, getting that electric vehicle charging network right is going to be something we really need to partner with local leaders to do. I would say the job of a mayor is one of the toughest in America, but it just got a little bit easier with these resources that we're going to be able to deliver from Washington, thanks to Congress passing this bill.

SIMON: Mr. Secretary, I'm told there's money in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework for the Appalachian Regional Commission, which is, perhaps coincidentally, chaired by Senator Joe Manchin's wife. To be blunt, is this to help bring his vote around for the Build Back Better legislation to follow?

BUTTIGIEG: Look. Anywhere there are Americans who need resources and help, they're going to have a favorable claim on the dollars that are in this bill, whether we're talking about Appalachia, where there are so many communities living in poverty that would benefit from better infrastructure to connect them to opportunity, whether we're talking about our biggest cities or our rural areas.

And, of course, we're very excited about the second text you just mentioned, which is still working its way through the House and the Senate after that procedural vote last night. That's going to make families better off in every part of the country, from Indiana, where I come from, to West Virginia to Washington, D.C., where I'm talking to you right now.

SIMON: What effect do you hope the passage of this legislation might have on the Build Back Better plan?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think it helps us build momentum. I like to think of these as two pieces of a bigger picture. I'm hoping that it'll be remembered as the big deal. You know, we had the New Deal under FDR, the Square Deal under Teddy Roosevelt. I think the Biden-Harris administration is delivering a big deal for the American people, part one last night - the infrastructure and transportation work that's going to make it possible not just to create jobs, but to connect Americans to opportunity - and then part two, which is also very much not just a pro-family package, not just a package to do the right thing on climate, but also an economic vision for the future. You know, having child care allows more Americans to go back to work. Lowering costs for child care and home care, preschool and so much more helps deal with some of the inflationary pressures that we're seeing. So all of these add up to one big picture. And the momentum - you can just feel it, driven, of course, by the fact that the American people want us to get this done.

SIMON: Transportation Secretary Buttigieg, thanks so much.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.