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Transportation

Buttigieg visits Syracuse, supports local hiring on I-81 project, pushes infrastructure plan

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Tom Magnarelli
/
WRVO Public Media
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg with New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Mayor Ben Walsh.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Syracuse on Tuesday to talk about the I-81 project. Buttigieg said part of President Biden’s infrastructure plan is making sure local residents get to work on these new projects.

He was greeted by activists with the Urban Jobs Task Force, who have been calling for local hiring on the I-81 project. They chanted, “We wants jobs!”

Buttigieg marked the 65th anniversary of the creation of the Interstate highway system, saying across the country, the planners routed highways through Black and brown neighborhoods and displaced thousands in cities that ended up losing population, and he focused on I-81 in particular. 

“This illustrates something we’ve been talking about across the country, and it’s one of the most stark illustrations I have yet seen,” Buttigieg said. “The air quality issues affecting children. The economic issues of what happened when a neighborhood was literally rolled over and cut in two. We’re not bringing this up to make people feel guilty, we’re bringing this up in the spirit of hope that we can finally do something about it.”

Buttigieg said that’s why a bipartisan deal the White House reached with senators on infrastructure is so important, because it includes a historic amount of funding for projects like I-81. He said a draft environmental impact statement on the project is forthcoming and it's not the role of the federal government to change the state's recommendation, which is a street-level community grid to replace the elevated highway downtown.

“What we want to make sure of is we’ve torn down barriers, bureaucratic barriers, and the biggest barrier of all for just about every worthy project out there, which is a simple lack of funding,” Buttigieg said. “And make clear our expectations, that justice considerations, environmental considerations, and this local hire element, which is so important; we’re doing everything we can with the authorities we’ve got. We could be doing a lot more to make sure the community is represented on the worksite too.”

Even after the report is released, changes could still be made to the project.