Transportation chief Buttigieg stops in Chicago to keep infrastructure plan on track before ‘twists and turns’ ahead
The U.S. transportation secretary’s Illinois stop is one of three he’s made in recent days to promote Biden’s infrastructure plan. The former Democratic presidential hopeful has also visited Arizona and Oregon.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stopped in Illinois Friday to tour transit and rail centers in and near Chicago, touting President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan as a vehicle to help the country realize a “vision for the next 10, 20, 50 years.”
The former Democratic presidential hopeful’s Chicago area stop is one of three he’s made in recent days to promote Biden’s infrastructure plan. The former South Bend mayor has also made trips to Arizona and Oregon. Members of Biden’s Cabinet are fanning out to promote the president’s infrastructure proposal, which could come up for a vote as soon as next week.
Flanked by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Rep. Marie Newman and other members of the state’s congressional delegation, Buttigieg first toured the 95th/Dan Ryan Red Line station.
He stopped at a booth where a DJ spun records as commuters and others made their way through the station. Buttigieg viewed one of the transit authority’s electric buses. Chicago plans to make its bus fleet totally electric by 2040.
Later Friday afternoon, Buttigieg joined Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Newman, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other Democrats to tour the CSX rail yard, a transit hub in southwest suburban Bedford Park.
Pritzker said that, if the infrastructure bill passes, Illinois will be able to “accelerate all that we had planned for and much, much more,” listing off potential areas of investment in broadband, airports, roads and bridges.
Buttigieg said Biden’s stimulus plan was “ about bringing us back from the brink of the economic abyss” but the infrastructure plan is about preparing for the future.
“This is about more than coming back from COVID, this is about making sure we have a vision for the next 10, 20, 50 years,” Buttigieg said. “Some of these ideas that we’ll fund with these dollars, if we get them, are shovel ready.”
“But this isn’t just about what’s shovel ready, it’s about what’s shovel worthy, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re proud to support not just construction, but design to take something that is a great vision that someone has for 2037 and move it into the next few years, so we can get the safety, economic, equity and climate benefits from that sooner.”
Biden’s infrastructure plan sets aside $109 billion for upgrades to roads, bridges and other major infrastructure projects, another $49 billion for public transportation and $7.5 billion for electric vehicles and buses.
Durbin said the bill will “repair more bridges than have ever been repaired since the interstate highway project was created by President [Dwight] Eisenhower so many decades ago,” but much of the focus of Buttigieg’s Chicago visit went to a plan to extend the Red Line.
While the federal bill doesn’t focus on specific projects, the city would likely put some of the infrastructure dollars it gets toward the extension project.
That project would add four stops to the city’s busiest line, eventually taking it to 130th Street.
Lightfoot said she spoke to the former Indiana mayor about extending the Red Line, which the Lightfoot said would improve “connectivity and access to the entire CTA network, expand economic opportunity through connections to jobs, educational opportunities, housing and other services.”
Buttigieg approved of the plan, saying it shouldn’t take the same amount of time for people on the Far South Side to get downtown as it does for someone traveling from his hometown of South Bend, Indiana, to get to the same destination.
Dorval Carter, the president of the Chicago Transit Authority, said congressional passage of the bill would allow more “certainty” for the extension project and the setting of a firm timeline.
Asked if commuters would see their fares increased to help pay for the transit authority’s plan, Carter gave an emphatic “no.”
Lightfoot didn’t exactly say no, but did say “affordability is key” when it comes to making investments on the South Side.
“Keeping transit affordable is a key priority for me,” Lightfoot said. “It doesn’t make any sense for us to make these investments if people can’t afford to ride [the CTA].”
Buttigieg and members of Illinois’ congressional delegation expressed confidence the bill will pass, but it remains uncertain when — or if —it will pass since negotiations are ongoing.
The transportation secretary didn’t give a firm timeline, but conceded “there will be more twists and turns, there’s no question.”