July 30, 2021

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‘Racially destructive’ infrastructure choices were made

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tells Yahoo Finance Presents it’s well beyond time to correct the racially inequities weaved into the fabric of the nation’s infrastructure. 

“So one of the problems with the racially destructive choices that were made in the past is that it’s a lot harder to reverse when it’s in the form of a big concrete highway. There are many places in the country where it’s been shown that choices were made to run a highway right through the heart of what had been a thriving Black neighborhood, often dividing that neighborhood into or clearing it out entirely. And there’s frankly, a lot of documentary evidence that often this wasn’t just done out of convenience, sometimes it was done on purpose, and we have a chance to get it right,” Buttigieg says.

Last week, President Biden unveiled his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan. Coined the “American Jobs Plan,” Biden’s proposal aims to invest $621 billion into transportation infrastructure, including the repair of roads, bridges, transit and rail. More than $300 billion will be spent to replace lead water pipes and upgrade sewers, invest in broadband access in rural communities and improve the power grid. The rebuild is expected to create millions of good-paying jobs for America’s working class, the administration contends. 

But the plan also seeks to address the racial divide not just by building roads and highways, creating jobs and encouraging the use of more efficient public transport. 

For instance, in the package the president is asking Congress to make a $10 billion R&D investment in historically Black colleges and universities. Moreover, he is looking for lawmakers to invest $15 billion in creating up to 200 centers of excellence that serve as research incubators for historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. 

President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, right, meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the House of Representatives in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on infrastructure. Buttigieg says America’s infrastructure needs exceed $1 trillion and that other countries like China are pulling ahead. It’s a disparity that Buttigieg is calling “a threat to our collective future” in prepared remarks to Congress. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

As for Buttigieg, he is squarely focused on getting the infrastructure rebuild right and fixing the mistakes of the past.

“Well, in some places, it could be there have been some very successful projects in this country where a highway interchange that’s really just choking the life of the neighborhood or the city under it can be put underground, reclaiming the land and improving the throughput of vehicles. I’m not saying that’s the right answer everywhere. But there are certainly examples of that,” Buttigieg explains. “In other cases, it might not be about subtracting it might be about adding to make sure that they’re connectors from East to West, and in a city that seems to have been divided by a router or a highway going North to South. It’s going to look different in different communities. And that’s why we want to meet communities where they are, not prescribing all the answers from Washington, but providing more of the resources from here in Washington to help communities get it done.”

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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