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VIDEO: U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg Speaks at Press Conference at Honoapi‘ilani Highway

Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Secretary Buttigieg speaks at press conference on Maui
Secretary Buttigieg speaks at press conference on Maui

Watch the address here:  

WASHINGTON – Secretary Pete Buttigieg discussed the federal government recovery efforts for the Maui community during a visit to Hawai‘i on February 21, 2024. 

The Secretary highlighted key investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the Honoapi‘ilani highway, which is the main route in and out of Lahaina. 

Secretary Buttigieg also emphasized the value of rebuilding infrastructure with extreme weather and a changing climate in mind. President Biden's Investing in America Agenda prioritizes both Lahaina's immediate recovery and the island's long-term resilience. 

The full transcript of Secretary Buttigieg’s remarks are below: 

Thanks very much, Senator. Thank you for the chance to join you. And I appreciate the kind introduction. Senator Schatz really has become a friend. He's an extraordinary leader, somebody who has done so much to help shape this Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that even makes it possible for us to have this good news and is a partner in delivering the kind of change and transportation that we need. And I would be saying that even if he wasn't in charge of the committee that controls all the money that goes to my department. Just for the record, you have great leadership and a great delegation here. Likewise Senator Hirono, who has long been encouraging me to come to Hawai‘i, I was always looking forward to taking that invitation up, but it's really great to be able to do it. 
She is passionate about many things that we care about at the DOT from improving the passenger airline experience to making sure that we support, encourage, and recruit more women to get into engineering and transportation careers. And has likewise been a great partner in delivering. And Representative Tokuda, you were arriving in the House of Representatives at just the right time. I don't know if it feels that way from the inside, but we are glad that you're joining and have come to Congress and have immediately established yourself as such an effective voice for the people of Hawai‘i. We had a really excellent briefing and tour this morning, very informative. And so, I want to thank all of our federal partners who are here, the Army Corps of Engineers represented by Assistant Secretary Connor. 
You all have a lot to be proud of the brief from Colonel Curry and the work that all of the members of the Army Corps are doing here, really as a credit to that institution. And that's an institution we work with often in so many ways. Mayor Bissen, thank you for the warm welcome. Thank you for your leadership. We had a terrific discussion with the Lahaina advisory committee that the mayor put together getting a wide range of viewpoints from around the community. I know the job of mayor has only gotten more difficult and more demanding since I had the title of mayor, and I admire it greatly, although I will say it would've been nice back when I was mayor to have a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill coming from the President of the United States. 
So hopefully that at least is a wind in your back. And to Director Smith and the whole team at the Hawai‘i DOT, we know we're keeping you busy. Thank you for everything you are doing to deliver on all of these projects we can get there. Certainly true, I have never given a or been at a press conference where there were whales breaching in the background and chickens roaming the ground, and where I couldn't tell if a couple of people on surfboards were listening to us or just enjoying the day. Like every visitor to Hawai‘i, every visitor to Maui, every visitor to Lahaina, I am moved by the extraordinary beauty of this place, but also, of course, like every visitor to this place since August, I am moved by the unbelievable and shocking destruction that we saw that this wildfire, these fires rock and all of the pain that that has brought with it. 
And yet amid all that, I also feel the extraordinary sense of community and support for one another's that is characteristic of Lahaina and is something that that I deeply admire. We are a very long way from home, from where I call home. I'm pretty sure there's snow on the ground at my house near the 45th parallel in Michigan today. But I do feel a certain relationship between what I'm told is called the Aloha spirit here and what back home we call Midwest Nice. And it's made me feel very at home. And also, in that collective thoughtfulness and spirit of taking care of each other, you can see how that came into action right away with the disaster that struck this community and the way people looked after each other. I think we see it in the extraordinary percentage of the people of this state who serve in the armed forces, and the fact that this state has the highest labor union membership in the country. 
And when we talk today about the future of transportation on Maui, we do it with the understanding that that sense of collective responsibility of collective fate and of shared opportunity gives us a great deal of confidence in the future that you all are building here. And it's one that the president and the Biden Harris administration are deeply committed to being your partner in, even with eyes wide open about the scale of work underway and the challenges faced here. Climate change is already harming people and infrastructure in every part of the United States. But what Maui has faced is, of course, unique. The fire in Lahaina was a type of all-encompassing terror that is hard to imagine and hard to fathom. For those who were not here that day, it took 101 lives, displaced thousands, and left a lifelong impact on many more who lost loved ones and were displaced. 
It was the deadliest wildfire to strike any American community in more than a century, and then just a few miles away, a very different threat is on display, another one that you see in different forms in different places, but that is shared across different communities, which is water in the wrong places. Honoapi‘ilani highway faces increasing erosion, sea level rise and swells. It overtops the road now dozens of times per year. It can cost hours of traffic delays each time on the only thoroughfare connecting West Maui with the rest of the island. It's more than an inconvenience. It keeps people from getting to work, stops people from reaching the hospital quickly. It keeps vital goods from being moved across the island, and it blocks off the road for emergency responders or evacuations. These challenges are profound, but so are the means to confront them together. 
I came here because transportation in Maui is unique and vital to life here. So, I thought it was important to see it first-hand, and because I wanted to make sure I could offer an update on what the federal government is doing to be a good partner in building that future of transportation on this island. First, for Lahaina, our administration recognizes how much work remains, and I carry the message from President Biden that his whole government will be here with you for as long as it takes, represented by a fellow cabinet member, ambassador Tai being here by the EPA, the Army Corps, FEMA, and all of our partners who are on the ground. And... 
While much of that work is outside of the transportation space, I do want to report on the work that DOT has been doing alongside those federal, state, and local partners. Our department is assisted on the safe transportation of hazardous materials, addressing the school bus driver shortage, rebuilding the damaged ferry terminal, adding bus stops and routes, technical assistance on building temporary housing for displaced residents on a highway right of way, and more steps. And I want to thank our own Federal Highways team and US DOT team for that work. It's just the start of what is needed, but it's a meaningful start. We also heard loud and clear when communities in Maui have said that people don't just want everything put back the way it was but want to take this moment to design for the future. 
And I want to touch on a few examples of that. We were thrilled to be awarding funds to help the county bring its vision to life for a new Keawe Street in Lahaina, with crosswalk improvements, roundabouts, buffered bicycle lanes, and for an extension of the Liloa Drive and its shared use path in Kihei. So that both areas will be safer for people to drive, to walk, and to bike. Then last week, we announced funding to Kahului Airport to help complete the new TSA screening area. Enabling passengers to get through security and onboard that plane for all of those hellos a little more quickly and more comfortably. Now, one of the things I'm most excited about is the work that we are doing together on the future of the Honoapi‘ilani Highway that's been mentioned by many of the other speakers today. We were proud to award funding to help relocate a portion of the highway farther away from the coastline to make it more resilient against climate change and to keep this critical connection open. 
There's a lot underway, and I hope you can picture what this transportation system that is more resilient, more connected, and more sustainable for the future is going to look like and feel like. Because we share this vision of walking, biking, driving to where you need to be more safely with less traffic and less pollution on Keawe Street and Liloa Drive or on Honoapi‘ilani Highway, I hope, and more. And we can even envision the peace of mind that will come from knowing that families can get to where they need to be without the road being washed out or without being stuck somewhere. Whether it's in a vehicle or in line at the airport when your flight is getting ready to board. We believe in this better future, and we believe in the partnership that will make it possible for us to deliver it. 
And there's one more thing that I hope you can picture that hopefully you're already seeing, and that's jobs. Good union jobs that you can raise a family on. And that's another way where I see another overlap between what's going on here in my Midwestern home. President Biden's policies have brought a whole new wave of good infrastructure jobs, making it so that more people, people with and without college degrees, can stay and work and thrive in the communities where they grew up. Whether it's a place like South Bend, Indiana, Traverse City, Michigan, or Maui. 
And I again want to thank and recognize Senators Schatz and Giorno for being such leaders in Congress, helping to craft that infrastructure law. Because while we are all talking about what it delivered, almost as if there could never be any other way, the truth is it was far from guaranteed that that would pass. The legislation that's funding so much of this work was declared dead on arrival many times before we actually got it done. Just one last thought I want to share, which is that the fact that a place like Lahaina and a place like Northern Michigan and a place like Washington, DC All belong to the same country. 
This is a striking reminder of what we have in common as Americans, even across extraordinary distances. And it points to the importance of shared vision, shared work, and shared action. So, I want you to know that we are committed to be here for the long term, through all of that shared action, to deliver results and to make sure that transportation here meets its potential to make everyone better off. Thank you again for the warm welcome, the chance to be here, and the phenomenal work that's taking place on the ground. Thanks very much.