US transportation secretary to county officials: “We are here to help you”
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Local governments may face challenges dealing with federal requirements, permitting and environmental reviews, the transportation secretary said.
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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told attendees Monday at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference that this year is when “the dollars begin to move,” and the shovels will begin to dig in.
“We can’t tell you what your community’s priorities are, but we can partner with you on priorities that I think we all share,” Buttigieg said.
High among those priorities is addressing the dramatic increase in traffic deaths, including pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. “We ought to be up in arms about the crisis of roadway deaths in this country,” Buttigieg said.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $800 million in awards from the Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program, which included grants for both planning and implementation.
These grants “go directly to units of government smaller than the state,” such as cities, counties and metropolitan planning organizations, Buttigieg said. But one county supervisor in the audience commented on the funding’s complexity, saying, “I’m overwhelmed trying to figure out how to manage this.”
Buttigieg acknowledged that there could be challenges dealing with federal requirements, permitting and the environmental studies required under the National Environmental Policy Act. “We can often provide technical assistance to help work that process,” he said, and also urged local government leaders to seek out and work with community advocates.
In response to a question about the transition to electric vehicles, Buttigieg noted that as EVs become more affordable, the biggest barrier to owning one could be access to charging. While federal funding is available to build out the charging infrastructure, “You all are going to need to put together the local information and the localized inputs on the applications about where some of these chargers actually need to go,” he said.
Buttigieg closed by recognizing the challenges to local governments from inflation, workforce issues, permitting and other issues. “We’re here to solve those problems together,” he said. “We stand ready to work with you every way that we can.”