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Secretary Pete Buttigieg Remarks at RAISE Award Announcement in Lexington, KY

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Well, thank you very much Secretary, it’s a pleasure to be with you. As the Secretary mentioned, we became friends back when we were both members of the community of American Mayors - which I don’t think is a community you ever leave - and I think that mayor’s eye view is part of why he has been such an excellent leader for Kentucky transportation under Governor Beshear’s leadership and why so many great things are happening across Kentucky.  

And I want to compliment Mayor Gorton, not just on this project - and I’ll get into this more in a little bit - but this is a very competitive process, so this community has a lot to be proud of. But also, on all the good things we see happening here in Lexington and the good work that’s going on as this community moves into the future. And I just want to express my appreciation for the opportunity to be here to personally offer my forgiveness for what you all did to my Fighting Irish in the Elite Eight in 2015 and let you know that almost a decade later, I’m almost over it.  I want to thank our hosts with RJ Corman, this is a great place to be able to emphasize the importance of this work. 

Before we get into this celebration, I do need to take a moment to echo the President’s words a little bit ago concerning the Supreme Court’s action on affirmative action. It is so important for our country to move in the direction of fairness and inclusion. And to deny colleges and universities the freedom to consider factors like race when they are choosing among qualified applicants is a step backwards for our country. But I also believe and know and expect that institutions of higher education will continue to find ways to make sure that the future is more, and not less, inclusive so that everybody gets the opportunity they deserve. I just thought it was important to say a word about that.   


Having said that, I am so glad to be in Kentucky today. As Jim mentioned, we had already a great visit earlier today in Breathitt County where we saw what these transportation dollars are going to mean in Jackson, and that’s both from a supply chain and a transportation perspective - being able to expand Route 15 – and from a resilience and safety perspective – being able to reinforce that dam. That’s exactly the kind of thing that is what motivated the bipartisan work to get this legislation through.  

And the same is true of this great project that we’re celebrating right here in Lexington. I also want to remark that you can see the difference when you have good cooperation between the federal, state and the local level. We saw that especially on the partnerships, that I know were born out of hardship, in Breathitt County. We see it right here too and I do think it helps when you have former mayors on the job in important roles in state and federal government, too.  

But look, this is an opportunity to see in very real terms what President Biden’s vision of investing in America really looks like - and we need it. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been traveling the country looking at bridges, tunnels, roads, and so often what you see is the most cutting-edge, state-of-the-art transportation technology… of the early 20th century.  

And you know, you look at this, and it’s a great example; this railroad bridge was built 86 years ago. That’s before just about all of us here were alive and I’m sure that the way it was designed at the time made a lot of sense. But it’s also clear that it needs a lot of improvement. It is just too low for trucks. On average, a truck a year crashes into it, costing in terms of time, money, and even lives. It creates those backups that the Mayor talked about.  The underpass is also too narrow which means that there is no room for sidewalks or access to bus stops. That stops people from safely crossing and that can cut off entire neighborhoods and communities from the access they need to get around to jobs, schools, and essential resources. It relies on outdated storm drain infrastructure, which means it contributes to flooding events and there’s a risk of runoff - from those truck crashes I mentioned earlier - making it into the local aquifer.   

So, it is long past time for a better solution. As with so many projects that I see as we go around the country, the community has known that for a long that. The community has had a vision, the Mayor has had a vision, the neighborhood, the council members, everybody who comes together knows what needs to be done.   

But, too often that vision has been deferred because of a lack of funding.  

That’s why President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is so important and that’s why, thanks to your hard work and your strong application, I’m pleased to be here to officially announce that we are awarding Lexington $8 million dollars for the Reconnecting Northland-Arlington project.  


So what’s this funding going to do? It’s going to help replace this bridge with one that is taller, wider, and safer. It’s going to add new sidewalks and bike infrastructure. It’s going to improve that storm water infrastructure. It’s going to make bus stops more accessible. And most importantly, it’s going to better connect the community, so people can access all of those resources, jobs, and opportunities that Lexington has to offer.   

There is a lot to love about this project and I want to commend the leaders involved for what you’ve done to make it possible, because again, that strong support from the community, the application you sent in, the letters from business organizations and leaders, the governor who – to put it politely - was relentless in getting my attention on this, Pan Bowl Lake, and other needs in the state; that really made a difference.   

Local nonprofits wrote about how the project could make it easier for people from low-income and underserved communities to get access to healthy food as wells as schools, healthcare, jobs, and essential services. Train and transit operators wrote about how this will improve safety and reliability and how it makes it possible for more people than ever to get around the city affordably and conveniently. The water and sewer service wrote about how it would prevent fuel and dangerous chemicals from potentially making their way into Cane Creek and affecting the water supply here. You had elected leaders – by the way, I will add on both sides of the aisle – coming together around this project.   

You know, not every day that we see Leader McConnell, President Biden, myself and a lot of others on the same page. But Leader McConnell also wrote to us in support of this project and - most importantly - joined President Biden and was one of those Republicans who crossed the aisle to work with Democrats to get this Infrastructure Law done in the first place, because it’s just good policy, and I think that’s a remarkable thing.   

The even better news is this is one of 162 projects we are announcing just this week through the RAISE program, supporting efforts in every state in the nation, including Jackson where they are still rebuilding after everything they faced and where we know these dollars are going to make a big difference.   

Other places, we’re replacing nine outdated bridges in rural Iowa, strengthening the regional supply chain there and saving residents time on their commutes. In Philadelphia, we’re adding crosswalks and pavement, traffic signals, around half a dozen schools to make it easier and safer for kids to get to and from school.   

Just yesterday, I was in Orangeburg, South Carolina – a place of deep historical significance in the Civil Rights movement, celebrating a pedestrian bridge that’s going to help pass over highways and a thoroughfare to better connect two HBCU campuses there to the downtown business district.  

That’s just to name a few.  

Some of these projects are in cities, some of them are in rural areas; 70% of them are in historically underserved communities. We’re able to fund more projects than ever now thanks to the resources in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

This was a very competitive round of applications, so I want to emphasize one of the reasons you ought to be very proud here is that out of the $15 billion dollars of requests that came in, we had to pick and choose with about $2 billion to work with.   So, even with that historically high funding we have, there was much more demand than there was funding, which means that only the most compelling projects were chosen. Again, that just speaks volumes about the leadership and the work that went into this application and just how much need there is.   

Now, there are going to be more opportunities to get the funding they need to bring key projects to life. We have already announced funding for over 30,000 projects around the country, with more coming all the time. Two years ago, right on the other side of the trains behind us, we were able to fund major improvements to the Central Kentucky Lines Railroad including a new freight facility, truck-track rehabilitation, switch replacements, and better grade crossings.   

Earlier this week, we announced 130 projects in over 40 states to build American-made buses with American workers, as well as funding for workforce training to make sure workers are ready to support the next-generation fleets that we’re equipping them with.  Last Friday, we opened applications for a combined grant program funding everything from repairing small rural bridges to modernizing national landmarks. Very soon, we are going to open up applications for our Reconnecting Communities program; the first federal fund specifically designed to intervene in places where there are pieces of infrastructure dividing people from the jobs and resources they need, and making those connections anew.   

There’s more good work where this came from, so I couldn’t be more excited - more proud - to stand with leaders here; to stand with you and to celebrate the work that’s going to get done; and this will continue to drive our approach. Every community, from one the size of Lexington to one the size of Jackson, every project from one that’s getting national news like the Brent Spence Bridge that we’re all so excited about, to one that isn’t going to be known to most people around the country, but is going to make all the difference in the world to the people who count on it every day.  

That is why we’re here, that’s the power and the importance of transportation. That’s why there’s a great deal to celebrate, so congratulations again to the community of Lexington on this fantastic news and I look forward to seeing the results and partnering with the state. Thank you.