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Former Washington Journalist
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The major national infrastructure initiative President Biden has planned isn’t just about rebuilding roads and bridges.
It’s also about trying to instill some equity with Black Americans, and other historically disadvantaged communities, in how and where those highways, bridges and such are sited, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Biden and Senate Republicans are working to advance a bipartisan plan to refurbish and revitalize aging infrastructure across the country — with an eye on creating potentially millions of well-paying American jobs.
Introducing a sense of equity into existing infrastructure sometimes can be difficult, said Buttigieg, who was the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination prior to being nominated to Biden’s Cabinet.
“It’s critically important. And it is challenging. You know, if you have segregation caused by, let’s say, a discriminatory hiring policy, at least in theory on paper that policy could be changed overnight. You can’t change the location of a highway overnight,” Buttigieg said. “
So if it went — especially one by design that separated black community from a white community, or removed a racially minoritized neighborhood which happened time and time again, north and south in this country — it’s going to take a lot to address that.
“Again, this is an example where many solutions come from the local level. Our job is, first of all, to provide the resources, secondly to provide expectation that the future decisions we make about where sources go promote — and do not diminish — equity,” he added. “You know, the history of transportation and justice are much more closely connected than people think. I know it’s not the first area of policy you think of maybe thinking about civil rights, for example. But from Plessy vs Ferguson, about who got to sit where on a train, to the Montgomery bus boycott, the truth is they’ve never been separated.”
There is a role for the Transportation Department to ensure historically unheard communities finally get a voice in infrastructure, Buttigieg said.
“I think there is. And it’s something we tried to make clear from the moment I came in this department,” he said. “For example, if a community is trying to apply for a federal grant for dollars my department oversees. One of the things we expect to see is that the voices of underserved and overburdened people impacted by that that those voices are heard, part of the decision-making process.”
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