Buttigieg in Washington: State’s growth means ‘infrastructure needs to keep up’

Jul 6, 2023, 10:41 AM | Updated: 5:50 pm

buttigieg infrastructure...

Buttigieg will visit Mukilteo, Port Orchard, and Washougal, Wash. as a part of his visit to the state, highlighting projects from marine infrastructure to roadways. (Photo from Kate Stone)

(Photo from Kate Stone)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in Washington Thursday, visiting several large infrastructure projects, and he joined Seattle’s Morning News to talk about some of these projects.

Buttigieg was in Mukilteo Thursday morning and Port Orchard Thursday afternoon as a part of his visit to the state, highlighting projects from marine infrastructure to roadways. He’ll also appear in Washougal Friday.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News’ full conversation with Sec. Buttigieg here:

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg returns to Washington

Buttigieg in Washington Thursday

In Port Orchard, Washington’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Buttigieg hosted a press conference at the Port Orchard Marina to celebrate the recent $9.4 million RAISE grant awarded to the Port of Bremerton to replace the Port Orchard Breakwater, Murray’s office said in a press release. Port of Bremerton CEO Jim Rothlin told the Kitsap Sun in 2020 the breakwater was built in 1974 and was (then) about 20 years past its serviceable life.

“For nearly fifty years, this breakwater has supported Port Orchard’s economy and this community in so many ways,” Murray said in a statement. “It protects a marina that is a destination for tourists and visitors and a space for community events and the ports where ships of all kinds set out.”

They were joined at the press conference by Washington’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, Democratic U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman, and Rothlin.

“When you’re talking about infrastructure, you’ve got to build infrastructure on the water,” Cantwell said as part of a statement. “And that is what these beautiful communities like Port Orchard, like Bremerton, represent: A great quality of life and some economic development opportunity with good jobs if we make the right investments.”

Earlier Thursday at Mukilteo Ferry Terminal, Buttigieg, alongside Washington officials that included Murray, Inslee, and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen highlighted the $11.6 million in funding secured via the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to improve and electrify the Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) ferry fleet.

“Like so many in Washington state, ferries are a part of my commute, so I know first-hand just how important it is that they are running on schedule to get people where they need to be,” Murray said. “That’s why, over the years, I’ve made it a priority to secure federal funding to help WSDOT expand and improve their service—most recently to help achieve their goal of electrifying the entire Washington state ferry system, because, with the largest ferry system in the country, electrifying the transportation industry bit by bit will make a big difference as we work to curb emissions and build a stronger clean energy economy.”

“People understand that transportation means trains, planes, and automobiles — it also means ferries, and there are tens of thousands of people a day who really depend on facilities like the Ferry Terminal here in Mukilteo,” Buttigieg said as part of a statement. “This funding is going to make a big difference for ferry commuters across Washington state — and there’s no substitute for seeing it firsthand.”

The funding will go to three projects, with $4.6 million going towards the construction of an electric charging facility at the Clinton Ferry Terminal, $5 million going to the redevelopment of the Southworth Ferry Terminal, and $1.7 million for upgrading credit card technologies across the Washington State Ferries system.

The ferries were hobbled early in the pandemic as ridership tanked. Staff left in droves due to retirements, transfers, and firings. The system also has been weakened by a lack of maintenance and repairs, as well as a shortage of workers.

On Friday morning, Buttigieg will visit Washougal to speak on infrastructure investments that are intended to improve safety, speed up emergency response times, and strengthen supply chains.

Buttigieg appears on Seattle’s Morning News

The visit is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to highlight the new $4.4 billion infrastructure law. Over 350 projects in Washington have been identified for funding. There are 416 bridges and over 5,469 miles of highway that have been identified as needing renovation.

“(Washington) has a lot of demand, a lot of traffic, and a lot of growth,” Buttigieg said. “Now, economically, that’s good news. But that means we’ve got a lot of infrastructure that needs to keep up, especially in this region.”

Buttigieg highlighted the recent improvements to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, including 16 million for new security checkpoints meant to streamline and increase safety at the airport.

The transportation secretary has focused on the airline industry after a series of weather complications and system failures caused thousands of flights to be canceled last winter.

One of the many reasons for recent disruptions for people hoping to catch a flight for work or to visit family has been a lack of air traffic controllers, Buttigieg said, with the country still facing disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Not a simple thing. Because training for that job rightly is a very thorough and complex process, it can take two or even three years to fully get through qualification, not just to be an air traffic controller in general,” Buttigieg said. ” We’re pushing so hard with Congress to get more funding; we got about 1,500 new controllers we’re hiring and training this year, are planning for another 1,800 next year.”

More on Washington State Ferries: Cancellations, delays causing frustration among island residents

Addressing the fact that Washington has the highest gas prices in the country, Buttigieg said that the administration is “doing everything we can to keep petroleum prices under control,” they think that the best way forward is to produce and encourage clean energy and clean vehicles.

“We want to make sure there’s a baseline of federal support to make it more accessible, more convenient, and more affordable to access these alternative ways of getting around so that you don’t have to be subjected to these ups and downs of world oil markets or worry about what’s going on in the politics in the Middle East or any of the other things that go into our gas prices,” Buttigieg said.

Contributing: Steve Coogan

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Buttigieg in Washington: State’s growth means ‘infrastructure needs to keep up’