Pete Buttigieg says there is ‘racism physically built into’ America’s ailing infrastructure system

Transportation secretary says racial divisions in America’s infrastructure were not ‘just an act of neglect’ but a ‘conscious choice’

Chris Riotta
Washington D.C.
Thursday 08 April 2021 16:19

Related: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wants to turn America into a leader in high-speed rail

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said there is “racism physically built into” United States highways, while discussing a sweeping new proposal that seeks to overhaul the nation’s ailing infrastructure system and dramatically reinvest in historically disadvantaged communities. 

The transportation secretary detailed how some highways in the US were built to accommodate wealthy, white communities while effectively shutting out black communities and furthering racial divisions in an interview with theGrio

“Well if you’re in Washington, I’m told that the history of that highway is one that was built at the expense of communities of colour in the DC area,”  Mr Buttigieg said in an interview published this week. “There are stories and I think Philadelphia and Pittsburgh [and] in New York, Robert Moses famously saw through the construction of a lot of highways.”

His comments come as President Joe Biden promotes a $2.3 trillion plan to reimagine everything from transit infrastructure to environmental justice, as the White House says at least 40 per cent of that investment will go towards disadvantaged communities. 

Mr Buttigieg added: “There is racism physically built into some of our highways, and that’s why the jobs plan has specifically committed to reconnect some of the communities that were divided by these dollars.”

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The transportation secretary said the lack of federal infrastructure projects throughout history in Black and minority communities “wasn’t just an act of neglect” but a “conscious choice” and added that the plan would be paid for in part through corporate tax hikes. 

Mr Biden has touted his infrastructure proposal as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in the country’s roadways, highways and bridges, many of which have low or failing ratings according to engineering groups, as well as modern infrastructure, like broadband and renewable energy.

“We are America,” the president said in remarks on Wednesday while promoting the recently released proposal. “We don’t just fix for today, we build for tomorrow.”

He added: “Two hundred years ago, trains weren’t traditional infrastructure either until America made a choice to lay down tracks across the country. Highways weren’t traditional infrastructure until we allowed ourselves to imagine that roads could connect our nation across state lines.” 

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