Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday his department views everything through an “equity” lens and “every” transportation decision is about “justice.”
Buttigieg was in Syracuse, New York, to tout an infrastructure package at I-81, where planners intend to “replace the I-81 viaduct with a grid of ground-level streets and reroute high-speed traffic to I-481.”
“Jobs, safety, prosperity, racial justice cannot be separated from transportation,” Buttigieg said during a news conference, according to NNY360. “That’s part of why we’re here. Every decision about transportation is necessarily a decision about justice.”
Buttigieg asserted racism was behind where the road was routed when it was built in the late 1950s.
“The planners behind it also made choices that often routed highways through black and brown neighborhoods, doing lasting damage,” he told Newschannel 34.
But others in the community did not seem pleased to hear Buttigieg’s rhetoric:
Leaders outside of the city worry the damage will shift to their suburban communities. They’ve constantly complained about not having their opinion heard.
[The town of] DeWitt worries about more traffic on I-481 through its neighborhoods and exiting traffic onto local streets. Salina fears its businesses, built along I-81, will fail without customer traffic. People in Skaneateles worry about more truck traffic.
When asked how the federal government could help whichever neighborhoods negatively impacted by the redesign, Buttigieg said, “Often, there are resources to make sure if there is an impact, it can be cushioned in a different way. Those are conversations we’re happy to have.”
Buttigieg drew applause from press conference attendees when he said he wanted locals to work on the infrastructure projects.
“We’re making sure that the people who actually live in the communities where these projects are located get the opportunity to work on them,” he said.
But Buttigieg was evasive on the practical reality of that or what would go in the place of where the interstate once stood.
“That’s not my job, from Washington, to decide,” the secretary said. “I am looking forward to creative community ideas and hopefully a way to make sure the benefit to everyone in the area is maximized.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) backed the idea of tearing down the interstate and creating a “community grid” of highly trafficked streets.