Leaders at the Regional Plan Association has joined with other transportation proponents in supporting Pete Buttigieg as President-elect Joe Biden’s Secretary of Transportation.
Buttigieg’s nomination, yet to be confirmed, has also created a split among members of the public who asked what the former mayor of a small city can do for a $90 billion agency managing infrastructure across the country.
Tom Wright, chief executive officer of Regional Plan Association, expects that regardless of Buttigieg’s background the Tri-State area will see forward motion on long-stalled projects such as the Gateway Project and congestion pricing.
This progress will be held in contrast to the disinterest style of oversight seen from U.S. Department of Transportation under the Trump administration.
“People have pointed out that South Bend is not New York City… Mayors have to work on these issues on a day-to-day basis in a nonpartisan way and I think he has terrific background for doing this, in ways that being a legislator doesn’t really lend itself to,” Wright said. “In the short-term, we’re expecting to see movement. The U.S. DOT obviously has been holding up the Gateway Project and congestion pricing and just dragging its heels… We’re expecting him to show leadership and move on these issues.”
According to Wright, the Gateway Project to replace two Amtrak tunnels under Hudson River could move forward with little more than a “flick of a pen.” Congestion pricing has been held back, by the MTA’s account, by DOT failing to advise on the kind of environmental review that will need to be completed before approval of the central business tolling in Manhattan can move ahead, and ultimately fund the MTA’s operations.
Faith in Buttigieg ultimately boils down to faith in Biden, Wright said, with the president-elect having clout among transportation enthusiasts earning him the sobriquet of “Amtrak Joe.”
During a 2017 event held by the RPA, Biden was a keynote speaker and recipient of the John Zuccotti Award where he took the stage and the simple words “I love trains” sent cheers through the crowd, according to Wright.
The Biden transition team seems motivated to deliver on promises to provide American cities with over 100,000 residents with zero emissions transportation options with federal support as long as they create union labor jobs. Types of transit in the transition’s literature ranges from light rail, projects to improve existing systems as well as the creation of infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians.
Wright was cautious to be too hopeful of how Buttigieg’s nomination could mean for funding the MTA, now trying to balance a budget that hinges on $4.5 billion in 2021 from the federal government, acknowledging these transactions are dependent on congressional approval.