March 18, 2021 - TRA Austin -

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, appearing today on this years' virtual South By Southwest (SXSW) conference, expects that President Joe Biden will soon issue a "once in a century" plan to reshape transportation in the country.

Buttigieg said that we have to start "fixing and improving what we've already got", pointing to a trillion dollar backlog in existing roads and bridges that need work. He said the U.S. can no longer build roads based on moving as many cars as possible and needs to look at strengthening other modes of transportation ranging from intercity passenger rail to urban public transportation and the safety of bike riders and pedestrians.

"I know this is probably heresy in Texas but some things may need to be reduced," according to Buttigieg. "Sometimes roads may need to be widened, sometimes go on a diet, but just as often I think we need to subtract."

Buttigieg said there are opportunities for both high-speed rail to connect major cities and for other passenger rail projects in Republican-run states, not just in Democrat strongholds on the west and east coast. But the transportation chief said he can't go it alone without major federal investment and Congressional backing.

"Passenger rail service in American should not be inferior to that of other countries", according to Buttigieg, adding that "investment to improve railroads has to be a national choice."

During the virtual conference the 37 year-old former South Bend, Indiana mayor acknowledged Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who joined him and others on a study of transportation services in Europe in 2016.

Now that Congress approved a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which included $30.5 billion for struggling transit agencies, attention will shift to a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that President Biden is to unveil. If passed by Congress, funds would go toward investment in cleaner energy such as charging stations for electric vehicles, public transit and rail and fixing deteriorating roads and bridges. A closely divided Congress will be jockeying over the level of federal spending in the infrastructure package. Past seasons have seen the vast percentage of funds dedicated to roads and highways over transit and rail.