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Transcript: Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at Lane Transit District in Oregon

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Thank you, good afternoon. It would be hard to say it any better than Chairman DeFazio just did. I want to first thank all of you for joining us. I want to thank the essential workers in transit, transportation and all the related trades who have kept our country going. I was glad to spend some time earlier with you today.  

I want to thank Mayor Vinis and Mayor van Gordon for their leadership. It’s never been a more demanding time to be a mayor and it’s great to see local leaders with a vision for where our country is going to go from here, one community at a time. Because this is where the rubber literally meets the road, as we got to experience a little bit ago. 

And I’m so appreciative of General Manager Jackson, LTD Board President Vargas and LTD as a whole for hosting us here.  

And I want to of course thank Chairman DeFazio for encouraging me, from our very first conversation, to come here, which I’m especially happy to do on a beautiful day like this.  But also for his leadership, which I’ll have more to say about in a moment. 

I’m so glad to be here. We spent time in Springfield and Eugene today. Track Town USA. I’m told that of course running is the original form of transportation, and one we shouldn’t overlook as we think about all the others. 

This also a place that is known for support of bicycle commuting and bicycle recreation, something that is especially important as we consider the future of commuting in so many of our cities. 

And here, we see some of the first zero-emissions electric buses LTD is bringing online to replace diesel buses, which is so good for our communities in so many ways.  

It’s of course going to make the air cleaner here in Lane County, it’s going to reduce carbon emissions around the world. And it’s coming at a moment when Oregon unfortunately like so many other places in the world has reminded us of what’s at stake in the climate crisis. 

Things that we had talked about as maybe going to happen in the middle of this century, that instead happened last week. Things that are only going to accelerate and become more and more damaging if we let them. 

Fires raging as we speak, people being pushed from their homes, Amtrak service cut off between Oregon and California. And this on the heels of course of last week's terrible fires. 

Just weeks ago, seeing record breaking heat taking lives, seeing I-5 literally buckling, seeing the suspension of MAX, the transit in Portland, because cables were at risk of melting in the heat. 

And we've seen versions of this across the country. Gulf Coast flooding that halted rail service after Hurricane Harvey. Terrible floods in Michigan, close to where I’m from. Snow in Texas of all places. I got to see the 110-year-old walls of the Hudson River Tunnels that are corroded partly because of the sea water that came through Super Storm Sandy.  

So the climate crisis isn't just coming. It's upon us.  

And President Biden, Vice President Harris and the rest of the Administration view it as a defining challenge of our time, which is why we want this community and every community to know that we are going to support you through it and do everything we can to tackle the climate crisis together.  

Now, this isn't just about what can be lost if we allow the status quo to proceed, it’s about what can be gained if we get this right, which is the job creation that we can do right in this country. 

The buses that we got to see are manufactured in Alabama, with electric batteries made in Michigan.  

Jobs being created up and down the supply chain.  

And by the way, in the President’s American Jobs Plan, the majority of jobs created are available whether you have a college degree or not. A blue-collar vision for the future of our economy. 

Now we're also focused on safety.  

As Chairman DeFazio said earlier, when we were in Corvallis this morning – he took me to Highway 99 where I learned about the absolutely tragic crashes that have occurred on that stretch, and spoke with local and state leaders about how to do something about it. We saw safety improvements that are being installed as we speak, but there's so much more to do. 

Every one of us knows somebody who lost their life in a traffic crash. And just think about that for a minute. That every one of us has come to view that as normal, as though we were in a war that you will lose people you know and care about, as if that were just the cost of doing business in having modern transportation – and that's just isn’t true. In the US, we've seen over 35,000 roadway deaths each year since 2015, but it doesn't have to be that way. And these kinds of tragedies, we have been shown can be prevented by successful policies like Vision Zero reducing traffic deaths.  

So just in the few hours I've been able to be on the ground here, we have seen safety, equity, climate, job creation and the future competitiveness of this country all at stake in transportation choices – which brings us to the transformational moment that we're in right now.  

We need a transformational investment in infrastructure to last a generation, and Chair DeFazio has done so much to help deliver that. The House Representatives recently passed his Invest in America Act, a huge and historic step forward... He’s a fierce leader, as fierce a leader for smart transportation policies I've ever seen. Spending time with him informally resembles the experience, if you can imagine it, of having a beer with an encyclopedia of transportation. But it is not just the knowledge, it’s the determination he has brought through many administrations, always at the forefront of efforts to move our country toward a system that is safer for people, better for our climate, more equitable and more accessible. Which is why we're so glad that he's working with the White House, working with me and working with the Senate, to get a historic infrastructure plan over the finish line.  

So the next few days and weeks are going to be critical, but here's what we know: action will address climate change by creating a network of over 500,000 electric vehicle chargers across the country; giving people the option to leave their cars at home, making the biggest investment in public transit and in our country's history, including millions to electrify transit buses like the leaders here in LTD are doing already. It's got the largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak was created in the first place. Investing $50 billion to make our infrastructure more resilient to the climate change that we know is coming our way, no matter how good we get at improving our energy sources. And it makes the largest single investment in [clean] energy transmission in the history of the country.  

But it's also got over $10 billion for transportation safety, nearly half of which will go to road safety so that people can walk or use a wheelchair or bike safely and don't have to bring two tons of metal with them everywhere they're going.  

And as we said earlier, it's going to create millions of good paying jobs, careers building and maintaining the electric buses that we see here, laying those new train lines and transmission lines, upgrading water pipes, and so much more.  

There's one more thing, perhaps even deeper that I think might be at stake right now, and that is Democracy. We’re in a moment where questions are actually being raised about which system can best deliver for citizens - that seems to happen every 50 to 100 years. And we're in a moment like that. Would we be better off, some say, with a command and control sort of system, or do democratic mechanisms with democratic values still do the best job of delivering concrete results for citizens. And this is our chance to prove it... This is our chance to demonstrate that people will better be able to get to where they need to be thanks to the processes that we are going through as we speak, to empower citizens and empower communities, empower leaders like the ones who we spend time with today to seek that better future. So that's why we're so thankful to be here, and I really appreciate everything that's gone into this. Thank you again.