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Transcript: Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at White House Summit on Accelerating Infrastructure

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Good morning. And thank you very much, first of all, to Mayor Landrieu for your leadership. As you might imagine, I am convinced that it is always a good idea to put a mayor in charge of something important. And his work and his team’s work has been phenomenal in helping us to make the potential of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law into a reality across the many agencies that were involved, including the Department of Transportation. 

I want to recognize the leadership and vision of President Biden and Vice President Harris, along with the leaders in Congress who made this legislation possible. After years and even decades of talk, it is finally, actually, happening.  

And I want to thank Mayor Hancock, Secretary Wilson, and ASCE President-Elect Maria Lehman – who are going to join us on this panel in a moment – for their time.  

Our goal everyday as we get up in the morning at the Department of Transportation is to deliver good projects well. And a very important part of that is making sure they are done on time, which will be the focus of our first discussion.  

The truth is that builders of infrastructure projects dating back to antiquity have not always been good at that. Especially when the projects are big and ambitious. There’s an entire academic literature about the many ways and places where big projects have taken too long. But there are also shining examples of what it is like to get it right.  

And so today is about sharing lessons and new resources to help replicate and spread examples of success.  

President Biden has been very clear that he wants infrastructure to be delivered more quickly and efficiently than in the past, and, importantly, to serve everyone in this country. 

So, this is about hitting timelines without cutting corners.  

Building good projects well means addressing safety and environmental justice and community needs on the front end and reflecting our strong values and commitments around labor protections and around keeping it Made in America.  

Ninety percent of projects under this infrastructure package will be built by state, Tribal, and local governments. And we recognize that, as federal partners. We also recognize that our role as a federal partner is to help make sure that those project sponsors succeed.  

And we’re taking several steps toward that goal. 

First, we’re investing significant resources to help federal and project partners overcome three consistent roadblocks to getting things done on time: a lack of data, lack of technology, and need for greater capacity. 

And just as just one example, we're very proud that U.S. DOT will be launching the Project Delivery Center of Excellence, hosted at the Volpe Center, to help recipients of federal funding deliver their projects more effectively.  

Secondly, we still sometimes hear the idea out there that community engagement is responsible for slowing projects down. But our experience shows that the reverse can be true: that early community engagement, when it is done early and often and in a thorough and inclusive fashion, actually helps to meet the project timeline.  

I just saw a great example of that for myself in Detroit, where we were announcing a $100 million federal grant to help transform the I-375 freeway. The state and the city developed the project with such rich and thorough community input that we were able to avoid layers of review that might otherwise have been necessary and get through NEPA more quickly.  

And today, our Departmental Office of Civil Rights is releasing a guide with best practices on community engagement to help more project sponsors do the same.  

And third, we are launching the newest iteration of Federal Highway’s successful Every Day Counts program. It is something that has spurred successful federal-state innovation on project delivery – and expanding it from highways to also multimodal transit and rail efforts, as well.  

Modernizing our infrastructure is a national undertaking pursuant to the president’s nationwide vision. But it’s going to happen one project at a time.  

It’s a generational opportunity that we are going to make the most of, together. But that will absolutely require engagement with everyone represented at this convening.  

And if we get it right – when we get it right – we will be building a foundation for empowerment and prosperity for generations of Americans. And so much of that depends on building on time, on task, on budget. Which, as we do that, will also help us to rebuild trust in this country.