On July 14, 2021, Fred Wagner was quoted in Engineering News-Record on how future transportation projects may differ from those in the past, given the Biden administration and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s emphasis on social equity as a key component of transportation policy.
According to the article, Buttigieg recently announced that $905.25 million will be awarded to 24 projects in 18 states under the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program. For the first time in USDOT’s history, criteria for winning these grants included how they would address climate change, environmental justice, and racial equity.
This focus was a long time coming, says Wagner. “The history of trying to consider equity in transportation has been rather disappointing,” he says. “The Clinton administration’s Executive Order on Environmental Justice dates back to 1994. Between then and now, the types of things that have been accomplished were more in the realm of the informational, like community outreach. That’s good, but didn’t really get to the heart of the question of how best to provide an equitable transportation system.”
Wagner expects the federal environmental review processes moving forward will emphasize alternatives that can meet equity concerns. For example, “if there’s a project that’s more auto-focused, are there any mitigations to assist those who use transit? If building a highway or toll facility, you might mandate that it’s free for buses or van pools.”
Contractors and engineers should not fret that there might not always be a specific billion-dollar highway or transit project, he adds. “There will be a billion dollars’ worth of [work]—with a strong equity component,” says Wagner.
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