The U.S. Department of Transportation has already announced recipients of nearly $84 billion in grant funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during a daylong hearing Tuesday of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The hearing was held to review the implementation of the IIJA, the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.
Amtrak and high-speed rail programs, the rollout of electric vehicles and the future of the Highway Trust Fund were major areas of questioning for Buttigieg, who was the hearing’s only witness.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R.-Ill., asked about the status of Amtrak’s intercity corridor plan, which could connect more cities with at least 30 new routes and provide increased service on many existing lines. Buttigieg explained that the plan consists of “a mix of things that could be done relatively quickly and things that would take more extensive work.” Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., said he was optimistic about Amtrak’s proposal to connect Phoenix and Tucson with rail service, while Rep. Steve Cohen, D.-Tenn., asked about the possibility of passenger rail service connecting Memphis and Nashville, adding that there are no direct flights between the two cities.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., asked whether any potential corridors for high-speed trains have been identified for IIJA support. Buttigieg referred only to existing public- and private-sector projects: the publicly-funded Los Angeles-San Francisco line in California, Texas Central’s proposed Houston-Dallas project and Brightline West’s Las Vegas-Victorville, California plan.
In response, Moulton — a longtime supporter of high-speed rail – said, “We've got to pick a couple of high-speed rail projects that will succeed and so that Americans can see the value of high-speed rail.”
On electric vehicles, Rep. Thomas Massie, R.-Ky., questioned the ability of the nation’s power grid to handle the expected increase in the number of EVs. “Do you think by 2030, which is when [President] Biden says 50% of cars sold should be electric, do you think the grid will be capable of handling electric cars?” he asked Buttigieg.
The transportation secretary replied, “It's going to need to be, and we are working with the Department of Energy every day.” He said the two cabinet departments established the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation “to map out some of the needs.”
Rep. Scott Perry, R.-Pa., questioned Buttigieg on the cost of new electric vehicles: “I'm wondering what the administration and you are doing other than subsidizing ... to lower the cost.” In response, Buttigieg said, “Nobody I know, certainly not me, thinks that all or even most Americans can easily afford electric vehicles.” He continued to note that some vehicles are available at more moderate prices and that used EVs are also an option for some buyers.
Ranking committee member Sam Graves, R-Mo., and Rep. Daniel Webster, R.-Fla., asked about ways to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent. Funded primarily by federal fuel taxes, shortfalls have required Congress to fill the gap through general fund appropriations, including a $118 billion transfer included in the IIJA.
But, the transportation secretary said, “As we continue the transition toward electric vehicles and zero-emitting vehicles, it means that we're going to need to have other means for filling gaps in the Highway Trust Fund.”