Remarks at Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh
Remarks as prepared for delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg
May 6, 2021
Good afternoon. Thanks everyone for being here today. It’s an honor to be in the company of such effective leaders and such passionate advocates for the people of Pittsburgh, and of Pennsylvania.
Where we’re standing is a great vantage point to see how much Pittsburgh has changed over the years.
A century ago, the “city of bridges” got its name because of infrastructure, much of it built to allow steel workers who often lived up in the hills to get down to their workplaces, mills on the waterfront.
It was a virtuous cycle: those bridges got steelworkers to their jobs, where they made the steel that went into bridges—not just in Pittsburgh, but around the country.
Of course, things have changed a lot since then.
Pittsburgh will always be known for its proud steel tradition - but today this city is on the map as a hub of 21st-century technological innovation, medical research, and education. Yet for all that’s changed, people still use those same bridges to get around. Which means they’re still relying on infrastructure that was built a hundred years ago.
Earlier today, I had the chance to go out on the Ohio River, and see the Emsworth Locks and Dam, which, at over 70 years old, are in dire need of repair. If they failed, it would effectively close the entire Port of Pittsburgh, devastating the economy of the region, and endangering thousands of local jobs.
I also traveled under the McKees Rocks and West End Bridges, and saw the nets that hang beneath McKees to catch falling pieces of concrete.
Pittsburgh has 446 bridges, many of which are in a state of disrepair. The same is true across the entire country—in cities large and small, as well as on rural and tribal lands.
We need a generational investment to repair and modernize our nation’s infrastructure. That investment is the American Jobs Plan.
The President’s plan will create millions of good-paying jobs. We’re talking about jobs that mostly won’t require a college degree. We’re talking about union jobs. It’s the most ambitious jobs package since World War II. And it’s our chance in our lifetimes for a safer, more resilient, more equitable transportation system.
It calls for fixing the ten most economically significant bridges in the country, and 10,000 bridges overall.
It will repair over 20,000 miles of roads and highways, so our goods and people can move around safely.
It provides much-needed funding to upgrade inland waterways, coastal ports, land ports of entry, and ferries, which are all essential to our nation’s freight.
It includes a Healthy Ports program to mitigate air pollution in nearby neighborhoods, which are often disproportionately home to communities of color.
And it doubles funding for public transit, so the people who rely on it most can get around quickly and affordably.
Beyond transportation infrastructure, it also provides for universal broadband access, replaces 100 percent of our lead pipes, and funds an electric vehicle revolution.
And we‘ll do this with American labor, creating millions of prevailing wage, union jobs, where workers have the right to organize and collectively bargain without fear of retaliation.
This past year has been a difficult one for union members. Nearly one in five members of Pittsburgh’s local ATU have contracted COVID-19, and four have lost their lives. As we continue recovering and rebuilding, this Administration is committed to protecting transit workers and the unions that represent them.
We’re not just going to build back to the way things were a hundred years ago. We’re building infrastructure that will last for the next hundred years. And that means we need to think differently.
Pittsburgh is the perfect example. In 2009, the Davis Avenue Bridge—just a few miles from here—was demolished because it was too dangerous to drive on. Now, it’s being rebuilt for pedestrians, so people can walk or bike from their neighborhood to Riverview Park.
We need to make it just as easy for people to walk, bike, and take public transit as it is for them to drive a car. Doing that can open economic opportunities while also yielding a more efficient system, with less congestion and less pollution.
And it’s not just a matter of tackling climate change; it’s also a matter of equity—because we know that people of color and low-income communities are less likely to own a car, and more likely to rely on public transportation.
I feel a lot of affinity with this community. I also come from a river city, with a great industrial history, that was knocked on its heels by deindustrialization.
But our cities did not let these changes keep us down. We adapted. We created new kinds of jobs by investing in a stronger future. And we found new sources of prosperity, staying true to our history without trying to recreate a bygone past - recognizing that the most admirable quality of our historic forebears was, in fact, their focus on the future.
Today, our entire country has the chance to do the same. It’s fitting that President Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan right here in Pittsburgh: a city that knows what it means to build back better.
With that, it’s my pleasure to turn it over to someone who’s always stood up for the families and economy of this state: Senator Bob Casey.