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After $10bn in federal funding, Buttigieg hears more transit wishlists in visit to region

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks with the Rickenbacker Causeway behind him during a visit to the Port of Miami Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. Although his visit focused on seaport and airport programs, he said funds for rebuilding the aging causeway might be available under a new segment of the Bipartisan Infrastrucure Law aimed at making projects resilient.
Tony Winton
Key Biscayne Independent
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks during a visit to the Port of Miami Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.

Planes, trains and... ports. That was the itinerary for Pete Buttigieg when he visited South Florida last week.

Buttigieg is the U.S. secretary of transportation and came to the region to tout the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — a $1.2 trillion spending package passed last year. About $10 billion has been announced for projects in Florida. And about half of it for roads and bridges.

Buttigieg spent two days hearing transportation funding wishlists from local officials from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties as he followed the Brightline path south.

READ MORE: Tunnel? Bridge? Fort Lauderdale mayor at odds with Broward commissioners over New River Crossing

Brightline has received five federal Transportation Department government grants since 2017. Among the largest is $15.8 million to help planning an extension of Brightline between Orlando and Tampa.

The private rail service was launched in 2018 between Miami and West Palm Beach. It opened an extension to Orlando earlier this year. The service has added stations in Aventura and Boca Raton. with federal grant money and local governments contributing to funding the stations.

The most recent federal grant to Brightline is to develop artificial intelligence to help with monitoring what it calls trespassing. The goal is to improve safety. Dozens of fatalities have occurred since the passenger service increased rail traffic on the corridor between Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Mayors' wishlists in Fort Lauderdale and Miami

In Fort Lauderdale. Mayor Dean Trantalis met Buttigieg at that city's Brightline station. Trantalis has been advocating for a tunnel under the New River to do away with the current drawbridge carrying trains feet above the water. It requires opening the bridge to marine traffic to allow access to marinas upriver.

In Miami-Dade, Buttigieg visited the two drivers of international trade — PortMiami and Miami International Airport. Both are among the 40 busiest trade ports in the country, according to USTradeNumbers.com.

PortMiami has received more than $20 million in federal grants to rebuild infrastructure to expand cargo capacity and invest in providing shore-based power for cruise ships in port. That would allow the ships to use land-based electricity instead of relying on their diesel engines while dockside.

MIA is rare among trading locations to run a trade surplus, meaning it is sending out more in exports than it is bringing in as imports.

Secretary rejects inflation claims

The over trillion dollars in spending included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has been criticized by some as contributing to inflation. But that’s a charge Buttigieg rejected when talking with WLRN during his trip.

“The overwhelming evidence is that the top driver of inflation is that our supply side can't keep up,” he said. “If we can't move enough goods on our railroads, if our ports are getting backed up, if our bridges are out of service, that means it costs more to move things and that contributes to inflation.”

Among the projects Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava lobbied Buttigieg on during his stop was Metrorail, the countiy’s public transit rail service. Engineering work on extending the commuter rail along a northeast corridor is expected to begin this year. About a quarter of the $526 million price tag comes from the county. A little more than half is hoped for from the federal government.

“We're in line,” Levine Cava said, “and so we're very hopeful that we're going to get the necessary funds to proceed.”

“The mayor has made sure that there is no doubt in my mind about the importance of that project to this community,” Buttigieg said.

Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.
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