UPDATE, Jan. 28, 2021: During a brief session on Wednesday morning, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation voted 21-3 to advance former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s nomination as Transportation Secretary. Buttigieg’s nomination now awaits a vote from the full Senate, which could come as early as the end of the week.
Transportation Secretary-designate Pete Buttigieg said the "time is now" for the United States to invest in infrastructure.
In a nomination hearing last week before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Buttigieg addressed the slew of issues facing transportation, including how new technologies like autonomous vehicles and hyperloop should be regulated, and how the federal government can support the rollout of electric vehicles.
With President Joe Biden pushing a major infrastructure package in a bid to jump-start economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, Buttigieg said such investment is a "generational opportunity to transform and improve America's infrastructure."
Biden has pledged an ambitious investment in infrastructure to stimulate the economy, and Buttigieg said the time is right for that investment, especially to help the country recover from the pandemic.
"This is our opportunity to literally do the building part in Build Back Better," he said, referring to Biden's campaign slogan for the 2020 election.
And in the new administration’s efforts to fight climate change, Buttigieg said rethinking transportation infrastructure could be crucial, especially as that sector is the nation's biggest carbon emitter. "It's going to take a whole-of-government approach, and certainly DOT has a big part of this," he said.
An infrastructure push stalled during the Trump administration, and the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act needs reauthorizing. House Democrats unveiled their blueprint for that reauthorization last year, but saw it flounder.
Senators noted the difficulties in funding any infrastructure package, with several pushing Buttigieg on whether he would support raising the federal gas tax to pay for it — something that has not happened since the 1990s. Buttigieg said "all options need to be on the table," including an oft-discussed vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax, although he was noncommittal beyond that.
"Transportation infrastructure investment, around here, has always been an area for bipartisan cooperation...The other thing that enjoys bipartisan popularity around here is not paying for it," Sen. John Thune, R-SD, said. "We continue to just put it on the debt and hand the bill to our kids and grandkids."
In addition to Buttigieg, another city-level transportation official could be in line for an elevation: New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has been nominated as Deputy Secretary of Transportation.
That nomination, which will also require Senate confirmation, received strong support from various organizations. In a joint statement, NACTO Executive Director Corinne Kisner and Chair Janette Sadik-Khan said Trottenberg is an "inspired choice" who "knows first-hand the enormous challenges that cities face."
A committee vote has not yet been scheduled to advance Buttigieg’s nomination, although Committee Chair Roger Wicker, R-MS, said in his opening statement he is "quite certain" Buttigieg will be confirmed.