Secretary Buttigieg’s Ask Me Anything
Tracy F. Seelye

When Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg took to Twitter for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on transportation issues as he flew home from a visit to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach recently, it seemed to take some people by surprise. It was evidently a new approach to governing in Washington, D.C.

Followers of the Secretary, however, saw it as a return to the familiar – a federal agency version of his monthly Mayor's Night Out sessions in South Bend, which gave him valuable insight into the issues and concerns of his city's residents.

During the AMA, people asked about safety and supply chain issues, rail and EV policies, DOT priorities on climate change and 5G safety in regard to airline travel. In all, Secretary Buttigieg answered questions from about 30 people – out of about 1,000 replies. We've compiled many here (some edited for clarity):

Q: How can the DOT better coordinate with cities to not only create better public transit and active transpo, but also coordinate with local housing policies? @TonyAtCAPPA

“We're actively engaging communities and our @HUDgov colleagues on this. Transportation and housing go together in local housing go together in local decision-making (and in family budgets!), and our work at DOT should reflect that.” 

Are there any plans to add more wildlife crossing bridges to highways? @DianaNicoleA

“Yes! There's a $350M funding for this in the infrastructure bill. As you probably know, it's important not just for protecting wildlife but for human vehicle safety, to prevent damage and injury from crashes with wildlife on highways.”

Would really love to see more passenger rail, especially in the west where 8–10-hour drives are normal and commutes are getting worse. Do you anticipate any development in the next few years of our rail system? @ancestryjourney

“Very excited about new opportunities for rail. The infrastructure bill has the most funding for passenger rail since @Amtrak was first created. Some of that is for fixing what we have, but we can see new routes and service too in the future.”

I'm worried about EV adoption in rural areas. What do I not know that might make me more optimistic about it? @dykanris

“I love this question and think it's very important. If you think about it, rural drivers are among those with the most to gain from EVs. Tend to drive longer distances, so more $ fuel savings. And more likely to live in single-family houses where you can just plug into the wall.”

What's one research question you want an answer to right now? @jared_y

“What would it take for a paving material to survive two decades of midwestern winter without needing to be resurfaced.”

BIL (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) has impressive amounts of funding for all ground transport modes. However, there's risk some state DOTs will just build more projects using traditional criteria and 'cancel out' gains in access by transit, walking & biking. Do you have thoughts on how to avoid that outcome? @drewsaraabrams

“Very important to support transit and active transportation. I often say that people shouldn't have to bring two tons of metal with them everywhere they go. The IUA transit funding will go a long way here – we'll also continue supporting complete streets and other bike/ped work.”

With increased ports pollution from 24/7 operations, how can we accelerate the move to zero emissions drayage trucks? @mattspete

“Another big topic of our visits this morning. Ports are leading the way (w/our support) to electrify operations, including light & heavy-duty vehicles, and even 'plug-in' ships while berthed. That way increased ops no longer has to mean worse pollution for nearby communities.”

What are some of the problems that young people and recent college graduates can help tackle at the Department of Transportation? @theajayjain

 “We're always recruiting! Really need the next generation of potential transportation leaders to consider public service, in every area from engineering to IT to law. Check out for opportunities.”

What is it like having to work with both parties when trying to get new policies passed? @hanae_56_20

“One of the best things about the infrastructure law was the bipartisan nature of its passage. Many Republicans voted alongside Democrats to support @POTUS' vision, because it was so clear that it's needed. We often disagreed but were able to work together on making this happen.”

We were inspired by you to take a train ride to New Orleans for the weekend. It was a wonderful experience and we have inspired a few people that we know to do it also. @LauraRuffin1970

“So glad you had a good experience! Every time I've convinced a friend to join for a long-distance train trip, they've loved it.”

Longtime Amtrak fan here. Any chance our infrastructure $$$ will give passenger trains dedicated track instead of using freight lines? I've spent a lot of time during cross country travel running behind time because freight had priority. Both are important. @MaryLocker7

“Some passenger lines rely on dedicated rail and could be eligible for new funding. But also, freight railroads are legally required to give preference to Amtrak trains that run on their rails. A recent @POTUS executive order calls on the STB to make sure this is enforced.”

What can we expect in the future from the Biden Administration and the DOT regarding accessibility on public transportation for the disabled and elderly? @nora_hoffman7

“Lots going on here, including implementing $1.75B in funding for the All-Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) championed by @SenDuckworth to make more transit stations ADA compliant, as part of the new bipartisan infrastructure bill.”

What is your top priority right now? @ravsinger

“Safety. It's always the top priority for our department, and I consider it the main reason @USDOT exists. That's true on everything from @FAA regulations to @PHMSA_DOT pipeline oversight. And that reminds me, stay tuned for the release of our National Roadway Safety Strategy soon.”

If we are going to address climate change, we have to reduce VMT in our cities.  How can you bring state DOTs to this realization and shift focus from highway expansion to highway O&M with investments in more multimodal projects? @KevMcElroy

 “Agree we have to look beyond a 1950s mentality when it comes to highway policy. The question shouldn't begin and end with how to add more lane-miles of road. It should be about how people can best get where they need to be, with driving as one of many safe and affordable options.”

How do you see very small towns benefiting from better infrastructure? Mine has less than 2,000 residents. @dinahchat04

“We want better infrastructure for communities of all sizes. In your community it might be less about subways and airports, more about safe rail crossings or better streets, or better broadband access. It's really important to this administration for everyone to see the benefits.”

What's the first step(s) that the DOT is taking to alleviate the supply chain issues going on right now? @xrootintootin

 “That was the big focus of the trip today. We've been promoting steps like 24/7 operations in ports, sweeper ships to clear out empties, fines to make sure shippers move containers that are getting in the way, and more. For the longer term, infrastructure improvements are key.”

 Any chance of fewer trucks and more freight trains? @nlroundabout

“Another thing from our visit today: we're funding a $52M upgrade for on-dock rail along a key berth at the Port of Long Beach so containers can go directly onto rail without waiting for a truck to go between. We need all the modes to fit together more efficiently.”

Can you share some stats of some of the good things the Build Back plan has for South Bend?@Fred_LaGuardia

“Communities like my hometown have a lot to look forward to with opportunities on everything from roads and airports to trains and transit!”

How big of a problem is the 5G issue going to be with pilots landing their planes? @Nethieman

“The FAA will always act to ensure that all flight operations are safe. Right now, the focus in on minimizing disruptions required for flights close to 5G antenna sites landing under certain conditions.”

I was a planner for the Port of Los Angeles 2004-2007 and am currently working to navigate developers through the entitlement process. Many of my projects are industrial in the inland Empire. Our biggest delay is staff capacity at cities to process applications/permitting approvals. @PuaSaunders

“We're thinking about this a lot. Need to make these processes easier to navigate and user-friendly so local staff in communities of all sizes can succeed in deploying federal funds.”

My father came up with an idea worth sharing … I believe. What would it take to put some type of conductor in the roads and highways themselves that would recharge the car batteries for the electric cars? Wouldn't that be awesome!! @CanjarElizabeth

“I actually saw something like this in Peachtree Corners, Georgia! It's early for this kind of technology but it shows a lot of promise.”

Can you let us in on what you discovered during your visit to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach?  @STVmomTeachRead

“Learned a great deal from the perspective of the people on the ground – workers, port directors, city/county leadership, state and federal – it's far too easy to look at all the ships, cranes, and containers and lose sight of the most important part which is the human element.”

Our roads are frequently designed for higher speeds than are posted, which puts pedestrians and people on bikes (as well as people in cars) at significant risk. How will you address this issue? @ruralbikewalk

“When we put out our National Roadway Safety Strategy, you'll see a lot about a 'safe systems approach' because of the ways that actual roadway design is so important to safety outcomes (along with drivers, vehicles, etc.)”

How will your agency track progress on specific projects in each state that the public can easily access? @dan_hanket

“We're working on ways to help the public follow progress on the projects we're supporting, building on existing ideas like this national permitting dashboard”

Are more charging stations for electric cars part of this bill? @lifesabear

“Absolutely. Our goal is to support a national network of over 500,000 chargers, and we're already hard at work with @ENERGY and @SecGranholm to make the best use of the funds in the infrastructure bill.”