Pete Buttigieg put forth as nominee for Secretary of Transportation

Dec. 16, 2020
Buttigieg will bring his proven problem-solving skills to a cabinet position ‘at the nexus of so many of the interlocking challenges and opportunities ahead.’

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and former presidential candidate has been nominated by the incoming Biden-Harris administration to be United States Secretary of Transportation.  

The Biden-Harris Transition Team called Buttigieg “a barrier-breaking public servant from the industrial Midwest with a track record of trailblazing, forward-thinking executive leadership.”

The barriers broken so far include being the first openly gay presidential candidate, one of the youngest presidential candidates to win a state primary or caucus and, should he be confirmed, he will be the first openly gay cabinet member, as well as one of the youngest.

Before becoming mayor of South Bend in 2012, Buttigieg was an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve who served in Afghanistan, a graduate of Harvard University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.

“Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation. I am nominating him for Secretary of Transportation because this position stands at the nexus of so many of the interlocking challenges and opportunities ahead of us. Jobs, infrastructure, equity and climate all come together at the [Department of Transportation], the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better,” said President-elect Joe Biden.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris added, “One of the most important parts of building America back better is ushering in a safe, modern and sustainable transportation system that helps us grow our economy, tackle our climate crisis and connect all Americans to jobs and opportunity…Mayor Pete is deeply committed to bringing people together and upgrading our transportation system in a way that serves Americans of all backgrounds and communities of every size — urban and rural — across our country.”

While mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg’s “Smart Streets” initiative is credited with revitalizing the city, redesigning the streets and bringing in major economic investment.

The transition team noted this experience will come into play for Buttigieg who, as Transportation Secretary, would be responsible for “implementing President-elect Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, including rebuilding modern, sustainable infrastructure nationwide, creating millions of good-paying union jobs and tackling the climate crisis by helping to deliver an equitable clean energy future.”

South Bend Public Transportation Corporation (Transpo) General Manager and CEO Amy Hill worked with Buttigieg during his tenure as mayor and served as a member of his transportation work group. She noted he was willing and eager to listen to the needs and concerns of the transit agency and called his approach to transportation and infrastructure innovative.

“His Smart Streets initiative and Complete Streets policies were designed to create safer, more efficient transportation. The new traffic patterns (going from one-way to two-way streets) in downtown South Bend now safely accommodate all modes of transportation and also had a tremendous economic impact on the city. He always took a collaborative approach and had the ability to bring agencies together,” said Hill.

Hill says Transpo’s partnership with the city made one of the region’s first compressed natural gas fast fuel facilities possible. She also credits his commitment to transportation with bringing mobility pilot programs, such as dockless bike share and a 2018 Bloomberg grant to pilot new technologies for transit to improve access to job opportunities, which is a program in which Transpo continues its participation.

Transpo’s Board includes three appointees made by South Bend’s mayor. Hill notes Buttigieg made “smart choices” with his appointments, which included a city planner to ensure public transit is part of all city infrastructure investments.

“He was able to make significant transportation improvements in a relatively short about of time which will continue to have a positive impact on transportation in the region for years to come,” said Hill.

In a series of tweets Tuesday evening, Buttigieg said “innovation in transportation helped build my hometown and it propels our country…This is a moment of tremendous opportunity – to create jobs, meet the climate challenge and enhance equity for all.”

Positive reactions from transportation stakeholders

Several transportation stakeholders issued statements on news of Buttigieg’s nomination with most recognizing his work done as South Bend’s mayor and his “Vision Zero” policy while a presidential candidate as positive examples of what he would bring to the role of Transportation Secretary.

The American Public Transportation Association offered its congratulations to Buttigieg, calling him “an outstanding nominee” that “brings a wealth of knowledge to DOT and will be a strong leader for the department.”

Transportation for America noted as a presidential candidate, Buttigieg was one of only two to receive a perfect score on the organization’s “three principles for transportation policy” that included cutting the maintenance backlog in half; addressing speed as a major cause of roadway crashes and a plan organized around connecting people to jobs and services.

Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia said the railroad was excited to work with Buttigieg “to launch an era of passenger rail expansion and improvement across the nation.”

“President-elect Biden knows that rail investments will support economic recovery, expanded mobility and carbon emissions reduction and we are looking forward to working with Mayor Buttigieg and the new administration to advance these essential goals,” said Coscia.

The New York advocacy group Riders Alliance noted Buttigieg “understands that access is essential to city life.”

"For the Biden administration to succeed, our cities must recover their strength. That starts with robust investments in our transit systems, in the infrastructure that millions of Americans rely on every single day and which are fundamental to an inclusive and just recovery,” said the Riders Alliance.

Secretary-Treasurer of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) Greg Regan said, “He understands that working people keep America moving, and his desire to support working families, combined with his deep passion for policy, will serve him well in this role…As Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg will play a key role in ensuring transportation workers have the resources they need to be safe at work and rebuild our country and economy once the pandemic is behind us. We look forward to working with Secretary Buttigieg to meet the immediate and long-term needs of this critical workforce and the vast systems they build, operate and maintain.”

Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) called Buttigieg “a strong choice” to lead the incoming administration’s efforts to move the country into a modern era while generating economic activity.

“The bottom line is with a forward-looking leader at DOT, our nation has an incredible opportunity to create jobs, support U.S. manufacturing, reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector and create safer, more efficient infrastructure by investing in transportation…I look forward to working with Secretary Buttigieg on our common goal of delivering results for all Americans in communities of all sizes,” said Chair DeFazio.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.