Buttigieg tells states to consider safety for road projects

Mar 2, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: Mar 3, 2022, 3:02 am
FILE - A bicycle lane along Market Street in Philadelphia, on June 4, 2018. The government has a fr...

FILE - A bicycle lane along Market Street in Philadelphia, on June 4, 2018. The government has a fresh warning to states seeking billions of dollars from President Joe Biden's infrastructure law to widen roads: protect the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists or risk losing funds. In a new report submitted to Congress, the Transportation Department says it will now aim to prioritize the safety and health of all the users of a roadway, not just cars. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government has a new warning to states seeking billions of dollars from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law to widen roads: protect the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists or risk losing the money.

In a report submitted to Congress and made public Wednesday, the Department of Transportation says it will aim to prioritize the safety and health of the all the users of today’s modern roadway, from riders of public transit and electric scooters to Uber rideshare pickups and people delivering goods. Projects such as bike paths and traffic roundabouts, enhanced sidewalks, pedestrian pathways to bus stops and transit lanes will be favored in the distribution of the money.

The department led by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wants to change a longtime focus by the states that directed federal money toward adding car lanes to relieve congestion and increase speed — often at the cost of mostly nonwhite communities living next to the busy roadways.

“Safety is consistently DOT’s top priority,” according to the report, which was written in response to a request by the House a year ago to address record spikes in U.S. roadway deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report said the Federal Highway Administration’s adoption of the “Complete Streets” strategy, which is already followed by hundreds of communities, will “have a positive impact on the safety of all roadway users — reversing the trend of increasing fatal and serious injuries and creating a healthier, greener, and more equitable surface transportation system.”

Approximately one-third of U.S. traffic fatalities are people who are outside of vehicles. New data released Wednesday show 38,824 lives were lost in traffic crashes overall in 2020, with especially high levels for motorcyclists and bicyclists.

“A Complete Street is safe, and feels safe, for everyone using the street,” said Stephanie Pollack, the deputy head of the highway administration. “We can’t keep people safe on our roads if we don’t have safer roads and roads that slow down drivers to safe speeds.”

The shift promises a boost to cities from Atlanta and Austin, Texas, to Nashville, Tennessee, that have strained to raise money to build out green-friendly transit options, reduce fatalities by slowing traffic and stitch together communities racially divided by highways after states balked in providing funds for that purpose.

In 2020, the latest data available, U.S. traffic fatalities for Black people jumped 23% compared with 7% overall. Lower-income Black residents are more likely to live next to pedestrian crash hotspots, according to the report, and during the pandemic were disproportionately represented among essential workers who continued to travel to work, often on public transit.

Still, the effort could add to tensions with Republican-led states and governors who bristle at the notion of ceding power to pick their road projects, with some casting the bipartisan law as a vehicle for Biden’s liberal causes. Others worry that rural areas could lose in the process.

“Americans expect new roads and real infrastructure needs to be addressed — not a vehicle for the administration’s woke agenda,” said Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

In a letter to governors last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., two of the 19 Republicans who voted in the 50-50 Senate to approve the infrastructure bill, criticized a December memo by the highway administration that urged states to use new funding to maintain and improve highways before adding lanes. McConnell and Capito said states should continue spending formula funding as they see fit to meet local needs.

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Buttigieg said he would consider safety, climate and other factors in the award of billions in competitive grants.

“It certainly reflects our priorities,” he said. “When it comes to discretionary grants … safety, state of good repair, economic strength, resilience — these are national priorities, and administration priorities, and things that will certainly guide me within the parameters of the law in our decisions.”

With regard to formula funds, Buttigieg said his department will seek to work closely with states to help them understand things “they may not even have known” in regards to available money for safety. He cited the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, which provides flexible funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and transit capital projects, including intercity bus terminals.

FHWA said Wednesday it would issue updated guidance on use of that money in the coming weeks.

While the report to Congress does not have the force of law, the department points to potential legal authority under federal statutes to refocus money for up to 70% of the nation’s highways and does not rule out stronger efforts to push states into compliance. The department said Wednesday that many cities’ proposed “cap and stitch” plans to build green spaces atop underground highways and connect divided communities would likely be eligible for different pots of federal money. Buttigieg has cited a need to rectify a history of racist design in roadways.

Pollack, a hands-on manager who formerly led Massachusetts’ transportation agency under a Republican governor, has actively pushed federal roadway design standards. Last year, the FHWA temporarily halted Texas’ proposed expansion of I-45 in Houston over civil rights concerns, a rare assertion of federal power to investigate potential racial impacts. The agency has since lifted portions of that hold as it negotiates a resolution with the state that seeks to limit economic and environmental harm to neighboring lower-income, Black and Latino communities.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Bodies of 2 of 3 missing kids found in Minnesota lake

VADNAIS HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) — The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned. Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been […]
8 hours ago
Associated Press

Woman charged after 1,000 pigs found dead at Iowa site

SAC CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa woman is facing criminal charges after more than 1,000 pigs were found dead on a property. KCCI-TV reports that the Sac County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call Thursday and found the animals dead at two confinement sites. Authorities say 33-year-old Elana Laber was responsible for maintaining the […]
8 hours ago
FILE - Police and other first responders work the scene where officials say dozens of people have b...
Associated Press

Texas’ border mission grows, but crossings still high

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Following the horror of a human-smuggling attempt that left 53 people dead, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state troopers to inspect more trucks — again expanding a border security mission that has cost billions, given the National Guard arrest powers and bused migrants to Washington, D.C. What Abbott’s get-tough plans haven’t […]
8 hours ago
Mohammed Nazir from London, poses on a giant rainbow flag, during the Pride in London parade, in Lo...
Associated Press

Pride parade returns in London on 50th anniversary

LONDON (AP) — The streets of London were filled with color on Saturday as the U.K. capital marked 50 years of Pride. A vibrant crowd of hundreds of thousands turned out to either take part in or watch the festivities, forming a spectacle of rainbow flags, glitter and sequins. After two years of cancellations because […]
8 hours ago
Travelers arrive on foot at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport while airport workers demonstrate, lef...
Associated Press

Stuck bags add to tangles at Paris airports amid travel boom

Airlines worked Saturday to deliver luggage to passengers around the world after a technical breakdown left at least 1,500 bags stuck at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, the latest of several tangles hitting travelers this summer. The airport’s baggage sorting system had a technical malfunction Friday that caused 15 flights to depart without luggage, leaving […]
8 hours ago
FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2018, file photo, an early morning fog rises where 17 memorial crosses were...
Associated Press

Parkland jurors must manage trial stress on their own

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The jurors chosen this past week to decide whether Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz is executed will visit a bloodstained crime scene, view graphic photos and videos and listen to intense emotional testimony — an experience that they will have to manage entirely on their own. Throughout what is expected […]
8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
Buttigieg tells states to consider safety for road projects