Photo by Samantha Connors

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg Wednesday spoke about the U.S. Department of Transportation formally approved the Lowcountry Rapid Transit project to advance to the next stages.

“There’s still a few more steps to get this over the finish line,” he said during a press conference in North Charleston. “There are always going to be challenges to resolve. We will be your partner to get this done. And when we get there, which is our hope that we will, USDOT would be in a position to put up as much as $375 million to help deliver this new service.”

The Lowcountry Rapid Transit Line is a proposed mass transit system connecting Charleston, North Charleston and Summerville.

Buttigieg highlighted how the project would incorporate primarily electric buses, help connect communities of color and low income neighborhoods to other areas, provide more reliable transportation, reduce congestion and create new jobs.

The federal funding for this project is part of Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which passed in November 2021.

During the press conference, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who accompanied Buttigieg during his Lowcountry visit, praised the Secretary’s commitment to improving infrastructure, saying, “Secretary Buttigieg is providing significant, beneficial leadership, trying to implement a bucket of money that is as significant as anything, in fact, more significant than anything we’ve had since Dwight Eisenhower’s interstate highway project. This is the biggest investment this country has made in infrastructure, and we in South Carolina need to be a part of getting our share of that investment.”

Biden’s infrastructure bill allocates up to $108 billion in federal funding to states. According to the White House, $887 million has been allocated to South Carolina in highway formula funding and $59 million funding for bridges in 2022.

Yesterday, $979 million in highway funding was allocated to South Carolina in fiscal year 2023, according to USDOT. Over five years, South Carolina will receive $4.9 billion in funding for highways and bridges from the bill.

Buttigieg said, “We’re always looking for projects that reflect alignment between communities and their neighbors, between local and state, and we see that in the commitment that you have, reflected also in citizens being willing to step up with that county’s half cent sales tax in order to have something that benefits everyone.”

Buttigieg also touched on other areas of infrastructure improvement during the press conference including at the Port of Charleston and the Charleston International Airport as well as through investment in the Lowcountry Lowline project and flood mitigation.

Prior to the press conference, Buttigieg and Clyburn met with local leaders to discuss transportation and infrastructure projects in the area.

“I feel great,” Mayor John Tecklenburg told City Paper about his reaction to the meeting. “And it’s so comforting to know that you have some real, thoughtful and meaningful partnership with our federal government … [I’m] just so thankful to the Secretary for his commitment.”

Buttigieg acknowledged Clyburn’s comment that the bill is the largest infrastructure funding since the Eisenhower administration also adding, “This bipartisan infrastructure bill, which the Whip was instrumental to, is bringing us, among other things, the biggest investment in public transit, not just since the Eisenhower administration like on the road side, the biggest investment in public transit ever — ever in the history of the federal government because we know how much it means.”

Buttigieg thanked and praised local leaders for their commitment to improving transit and infrastructure as well as Clyburn for his support of the bill and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who also voted in support of the bill. “We thank those leaders who worked in a bipartisan fashion in Washington as well as local and state leaders,” he said.

Biden made a comment last week during a speech at a Volvo operations center in Maryland about Republican leaders who opposed the bill, calling it “socialist,” then requested money from the bill after it passed. “I was surprised to see so many socialists in the Republican caucus,” Biden said.

When City Paper asked Buttigieg if he was aware of any Republicans in South Carolina who opposed the bill then asked for money, he said, “I would have to look that up, but it’s definitely not been unusual for somebody who went on the floor of the House or Senate and voted against these funds to then turn around and write a letter or make a case or go on television about how these funds can be used to help a district.

And while there’s certainly a lot of irony in that, I want to make sure you know that we’re not going to be political about how these funds are used. We’re not going to punish constituents because their leaders voted against this funding. We’re going to make sure the funding goes where it’s needed most.”

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