TMJ4 Exclusive: DOT Sec. Pete Buttigieg on federal infrastructure upgrades in Wisconsin

Pete Buttigieg
Posted at 6:43 AM, Apr 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-26 07:48:57-04

Depending on your morning commute, you could be driving on a brand-new highway or an old road that could use some repairs.

President Biden wants to spend $2.3 trillion to improve the nation's infrastructure. In an exclusive interview, Charles Benson asks Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about what's in the plan for Wisconsin.

The orange barrels are up, and the road construction season has begun. Wisconsin roads get a D plus grade with more than one-third of the roads in fair or below condition, according to one civil engineer's report.

President Biden's plan calls for $600 billion to build and repair roads and bridges across the country.

Benson: What does that mean for people in Wisconsin? Better highways, more highways, repairing highways?
Sec. Buttigieg: It's really all of the above: First of all, we got to take care of what we got in Wisconsin alone. There are 1,949 miles of roads that are in poor condition. It's why we have the resources in this bill to help tackle 20,000 miles of roads across the country.

But there's more to Biden's $2.3 trillion plan. It also includes $85 billion for public transportation - like trains and buses - $300 billion to retool manufacturing and $400 billion to improve access to care services for older adults and people with disabilities.

Benson: Why is there more to this infrastructure bill, than what people might think typically, it's just roads and highways?
Sec. Buttigieg: Well, this is about preparing America for the future, making sure that we deal with an infrastructure that is today ranked 13th in the world, when we ought to be in first place.

Another $100 billion for broadband to improve high-speed internet, competition, and affordable access - a big issue in rural Wisconsin.

"We think being connected to the Internet is as important as being connected to the interstate highway system," said Secretary Buttigieg. "Even if it's a little bit new in terms of what we consider infrastructure, all of these things fit together, all of these things are going to help make America more competitive and, critically, all of these things are going to help create millions of jobs."

Republicans now have their own $568 billion infrastructure plan: $300 billion for roads and repair, or half off of Biden's plan, and $65 billion for broadband and $61 billion for public transportation.

Benson: The President indicated he's willing to compromise, is that a sign this bill is in trouble?
Sec. Buttigieg: Well, this bill is incredibly popular among the American people. It has a lot of support, but the President really believes in engaging all sides.

Biden's plan calls for raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent to pay for everything. The Republican's plan is a little more complex, but it includes user fees for electric vehicles and repurposing unspent COVID-19 relief money.

TMJ4's in-depth infrastructure coverage included a look at the number of bridges in Wisconsin that need repairs. There are 14,253 bridges in Wisconsin; the state owns 5,328. Right now, 123 state-owned bridges are defined as structurally deficient, while 857 locally owned bridges are defined as structurally deficient.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says structurally deficient does not mean unsafe. For example, it could mean potholes on the bridge deck or rust on metal trusses.

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