TX: Buttigieg touts federal funding during Houston Transportation Projects Tour

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Sept. 13 – The novelty check had a few extra zeros, but even if Houston’s airport system doesn’t get $40 billion, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg assured Houston-area officials on Monday that federal funding was coming. for a number of road, transit and airport projects. .

“We have the funding and we can work on some interesting, consequential issues,” Buttigieg said during a quick trip to Houston, touting the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill passed last year. as a catalyst for local projects and jobs.

Buttigieg’s move through the city of Bayou came as the area raked in more than $86 million in the past three months alone. In early July, officials said Bush Intercontinental Airport would receive $40 million and Hobby Airport $3.6 million for various terminal upgrades to get more people through security lines and accelerating the movement of baggage from airlines to passengers, as well as other projects, including energy efficiency improvements.

A fake check displayed at an event Tuesday in Terminal A listed the amount as “$40,000,000,000” — 1,000 times more than what Houston got — but was still welcomed by local authorities.

“These dollars are already making a difference,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

A month after the airport award, Houston won $21 million for a planned remake of a stretch of Telephone Road, via a competitive grant for community modification projects. The 2.8-mile street reconstruction will add wider sidewalks and bike lanes and spruce up bus stops between Lawndale Drive and Eastwood’s 610 Loop south of Pecan Park.

“These are dollars going to an underserved area, and frankly for some time,” said U.S. Representative Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston.

Days later, Metro secured $21.6 million to fund the bulk of an upcoming electric bus purchase, part of the agency’s first efforts to convert its fleet of 1,200 mostly diesel buses to cleaner fuels.

The buses will make an immediate difference, said Houston Congressman Al Green, because they “will improve our atmospheric conditions to the extent that some people will breathe better.”

Chaperoned by U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Buttigieg started the morning in class at North Forest High School, before moving on to Texas Southern University’s aviation program, which tries to train new pilots and airport professionals. at the historically black college.

Jackson Lee said that with investment and support from the federal government, the school “could be the heartbeat of more pilots in America.”

Part of achieving that goal, Buttigieg said, is reducing the cost of enrollment in certain programs for disadvantaged students.

“There is a very well paid job at the end of this road, but it is expensive to get there,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Houston, many workers need a car simply because a lack of public transit and bicycle options makes owning a vehicle a job requirement. The final stop on Buttigieg’s tour was the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Burnett Transit Center, for a quick look at Metro’s long-term plans.

Buttigieg said there’s “tremendous energy” to take the federal investment and put it to work on projects nationwide, where local officials have a long list of projects.

Houston-area officials have the plans, but lack consensus in some cases on exactly what to build. Transit in the region, while growing in support, still has detractors and skeptics, while opposition to freeway widening – notably the planned Interstate 45 over 9.7 billions of dollars – increased in volume.

Citing a Federal Highway Administration investigation into the I-45 project, Buttigieg declined to address specifics of the project, but noted that during his time as mayor of South Bend, Ind., disputes over the projects have yielded results.

“Through the dialogue, they’ve really improved,” he said.

Jackson Lee said she expects the same for I-45.

“I’m not going to give up on harmony,” she said of the divide between those who want the highway built and those who demand more improvements in the communities separated by the wider highway. “How can you reject people who are fighting for their quality of life?”

Opponents of I-45 and others advocating alternatives to freeway construction came to the subway portion of Buttigieg’s tour, but time constraints turned his planned route into a quick presentation on the flat -Burnett form. While transit and elected officials were ushered into a waiting light rail, band members Stop TxDOT I-45 and LinkHouston were kept on the platform.

The lack of access during Buttigieg’s visit has frustrated some of the defenders, who often show up to voice their concerns, only to be kept at bay.

“If I had known it would be like this, I wouldn’t have shown up,” Stop TxDOT I-45 organizer Susan Graham said as they departed.

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