8NEWS, OLIVIA JAQUITH
Joined by Central Virginia’s representatives in Washington, D.C. and other local leaders, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was in the City of Richmond and Henrico County on Friday, just weeks after President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law.
According to the secretary’s office, that bill included approximately $7.7 billion to repair and replace roads and bridges in Virginia. It also included around $1.2 billion to improve public transportation.
“The truth of the matter is that our roads, our bridges, our internet infrastructure, our rails and our bike paths literally bring people together,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said. “They connect us, they remind us of our common future.”
Spanberger, Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney walked alongside Buttigieg Friday afternoon in Jackson Ward.
The historic neighborhood was established more than a century ago as a center for Black commerce and culture, before being disconnected by a turnpike and later, Interstate 95.
“When you’re on an interstate — when you’re on the interstate that brought us down here earlier today from Washington, D.C. — what you don’t see is the communities that you’re passing through,” Buttigieg said. “But enlightened, 21st-century transportation planning and design has to be about integrating any new transportation asset with the surrounding community. That’s what the future of Jackson Ward could be.”
The walking tour included brief stops at the Maggie Walker House, the Black History Museum and the Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Statue.
“The north side of Jackson Ward and the south side are totally disconnected, and there’s a road, but one of them that we’d cross is one way. There’s a bike path,” Gov. Northam said. “But we can do better than that and, I think, make it easier for the people that live on the north side to communicate and get back and be part of the neighborhood.”
Following the walking tour, the group moved to Henrico County, to an active construction site that will eventually become the Woodman Road Extension, connecting Virginia Center Commons to GreenCity and the new Fall Line Trail. Through the soon-to-be-built Lambert Way, named for the late Henrico Police Captain Don Lambert, it will also connect residents to Glover Park.
“Henrico County has spent $4 million to extend this road and create a roundabout at its key intersection, just south of us, at Greenwood Road,” Henrico County Board of Supervisors Chairman Daniel Schmitt said. “With these types of improvements, plus the shared-use paths that we’ve built and will build, we’re making this area safer for both motorists and pedestrians alike.”
Schmitt emphasized a focus on safety in light of the passing of Capt. Lambert, who was killed in a hit-and-run crash, while off-duty and out for a run in February.
“A community is only as strong as its schools, its roads, its public safety, and other facilities and infrastructure,” Schmitt said.
Speaking one-on-one with 8News after the press conference, Buttigieg addressed the supply chain issues that have plagued consumers and businesses alike over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Decades of underinvestment, plus unprecedented demand, plus the pandemic that we’re facing right now have all conspired to create a perfect storm of pressure on our goods movement systems in this country,” he said.
The Secretary of Transportation told 8News that there are several pieces to the solution, one of which includes targeting younger workers, such as 18- to 21-year-olds, with the goal of addressing the labor shortage in jobs that directly impact supply and demand.
“We got to make sure that these are attractive professions to go into,” Buttigieg said. “We can’t scratch our heads and wonder why we don’t have enough truckers or warehouse workers if we’re not treating them with respect, paying them appropriately.”
He also said that government officials are working to address potential barriers for those looking to get a job in trucking, such as earning a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
“We’ve been working with states to try to make it a little bit simpler — not lowering the standards at all — but just get through some of the bureaucracy that can stand in the way of somebody who wants to take on that profession, get a CDL, and be part of the solution on supply chain,” Buttigieg said.
The secretary said the recently signed infrastructure bill has already made improvements in supply chain issues over the past few weeks in terms of moving empty containers taking up valuable space in the ports to make room for incoming shipments.
“It’s everywhere between the ship and the shelf. In the port itself, it means making sure that we’re clearing out those empty containers, that we’re efficiently routing the trucks onto the ports so that they can quickly pick up a load and get it out of there,” Secretary Buttigieg said.
“Meanwhile, you’ve got to make sure that the intermodal facilities — that means where you go, for example, from rail to truck — that those are at full capacity. Frankly, we’ve got to make better use just of the hours of the day. Lot of our facilities weren’t operating 24/7. We’ve been pushing for more of that because, you know, it’s just common sense that we’ll be making better use of the roads, the ports, the rails that we’ve already got.”
As for how long it will be until everyday Americans see solutions start to take shape, he said that will vary based on where improvements are needed. For example, certain grant funding is already being distributed. But other programs focused on safety in communities are just being designed, as they had not previously existed, such as Reconnecting Communities.
The press conference in Henrico County was followed by a closed roundtable, where Secretary Buttigieg and Rep. Spanberger met with Virginia business leaders, retailers, suppliers, labor unions and trucking representatives about supply chain problems and solutions. More information on the work conducted during the roundtable is expected on Saturday.