Secretary Buttigieg discusses how the infrastructure bill will help Utah

Aug 2, 2022, 6:30 PM | Updated: Aug 3, 2022, 12:18 pm
Buttigieg infrastructure...
07/29/2002: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg addressing Utah transportation needs at Parley's Summit. (Mark Wetzel)
(Mark Wetzel)

SALT LAKE COUNTY — The recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will give $1.2 trillion spread among the 50 United States and 14 U.S. Territories to improve their infrastructures.

Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, stopped in Utah on Friday, July 29th to promote a portion of the new law called,  Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Formula Program.

Under PROTECT, Utah will receive $12 million during the 2022 fiscal year (October 2022 to September 2023) with a total of up to $65 million over the next five years to improve the state’s transportation system.

However, that’s just a drop in the bucket.  

Buttigieg, Utah infrastructure, and  fighting fire in a canyon

Standing at Parley’s Summit, Buttigieg told KSL NewsRadio he was impressed with the infrastructure that helped Unified Fire, Salt Lake, and Summit County officials deal with the Parleys Canyon Fire last year.

“The existence of a wildlife crossing bridge actually made it easier to safely transport water by helicopter over the roadway without having to close it down,” said Buttigieg. “Because there was a way to run it over the footprint of that bridge so that it didn’t endanger any passing traffic.”  

He said other areas around the country have to completely close roads when a fire happens in canyons because they don’t have crossing bridges. “That means huge disruptions for supply chains and passengers,” he said.

Along with the $65 million for Utah’s resilience operations, the Beehive State is expected to receive another $3 billion for highway and road construction repairs over the next five years.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox at an earlier press conference stated he is placing a high priority on improving culverts.   Buttigieg echoed that’s a good way to use the money from the infrastructure bill.

“When you have a mountainside ravaged by a fire, and then it’s followed by a lot of rain, that could lead to a mudslide or a flash flood.  Sometimes it’s what you build around the road, or under the road.  And the culverts, when they’re placed in the right way, can really add to the survivability and the durability of an asset like a highway.”

And, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation said climate emergencies must be factored into infrastructure spending. 

“They have happened, and they are accelerating. It’s hitting every form of transportation you can imagine.  That’s exactly why we need to prepare and build for a better future,” said Buttigieg.

How Utah fares in the infrastructure bill

Officials will not distribute the $1.2 trillion equally among all states and territories, based on a funding formula.

“The formula is set by Congress,” Buttigieg said. “It depends on what kind of assets there are and how much they’re used.”

Buttigieg said Utah will receive more than $500 million for public transit alone and billions for roads.

And that’s just from the $804 billion allocated for specific projects. 

The infrastructure bill’s discretionary fund 

A third of the $1.2 trillion will go into a discretionary fund.  Buttigieg said there are many communities with ideas that fall outside the formulas set up by Congress.  

“They can come to the Department of Transportation with a proposal, and we will fund as many qualifying ideas as we can,” he said. “Sometimes it’s airport improvements, sometimes it’s neighborhood improvements and everything in between.”

The total amount is $396 billion. Cities and states must bid for a grant to use some of that money.

Opposition to the cost of the law

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) voted against the Infrastructure Investemnt and Jobs Act bill stating “it increases spending without legitimate ‘pay-fors’ and exacerbates our already dangerous inflation.”

He then introduced his own infrastructure plan calling it, the Transportation Empowerment Act.  In a press release, Lee stated his bill “would cut the federal gas tax more than half and the diesel tax by two-thirds.”  The act would also transfer more than $120-bilion from unspent COVID-19 funds into the Highway Trust Fund.

The bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and introduced in the Senate on September 22, 2021 but never went any further.  Lee introduced an earlier version of this bill in 2015 which also failed to get into committee.

Utah’s entire share of the infrastructure bill

The other two-thirds of the Infrastructure Bill will fund specific projects around the U.S. and territories.

According to the ‘fund formula,’ Utah should receive a total of $4,265,000,000 or more than $4.2 billion.

You can also hear the entire interview with Secretary Buttigieg on Money Making Sense with Heather Kelly.

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Secretary Buttigieg discusses how the infrastructure bill will help Utah