Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks roadway safety in Albuquerque - Albuquerque Journal

Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks roadway safety in Albuquerque

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, left, chats with Jodee Dennison, of the Tribal Injury Prevention Resource Center, at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque on Wednesday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/JOURNAL)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The Biden administration dispatched another top official to New Mexico on Wednesday when Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg flew into the Albuquerque International Sunport – only slightly delayed due to weather in Chicago – to talk roadway safety and investments into local infrastructure.

Buttigieg arrived one day after the one-year anniversary of President Joe Biden signing a massive infrastructure bill into law. The legislation will pump $1.2 trillion into improving roads, bridges, airports and ports, expand broadband and electric vehicle chargers, among other improvements.

It was one of several hallmark spending packages passed during the last Congress and was often cited by Democrats across the country on the campaign trail.

“We’re communicating, making sure that we’re conveying what we’re seeking to do, especially with this historic level of funding that the president has secured,” Buttigieg said of his visit. “And being ready to communicate back to Washington the things that we’re hearing on the ground.”

The Duke City has hosted several of the highest-ranking federal government officials recently. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Buttigieg have made trips to Albuquerque in the last month.

Buttigieg’s visit included a stop at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute for a series of public safety demonstrations. He toured a mobile police vehicle with blood-alcohol testing capabilities and heard from people who host clinics teaching parents how to properly install car seats.

“It’s hard to get these things right,” Buttigieg, who has 1-year-old twins, Penelope and Gus, told the woman giving the demonstration.

The secretary’s itinerary also includes a roundtable discussion with Pueblo governors and Apache leaders on roadway safety and infrastructure. On Thursday, he is scheduled to meet with leaders of the Navajo and Hopi nations in Arizona before departing from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. As transportation secretary, Buttigieg almost exclusively flies commercial airlines, according to his aides.

The two states were chosen for Buttigieg’s visit on public safety because tribal communities are disproportionately affected by roadway fatalities.

New Mexico as a state has struggled with the issue. There have been 395 fatalities on New Mexico roads through October of this year, according to traffic fatality reports, including 49 people under 21 years old. The state for six years has led the nation in fatal crashes involving pedestrians per capita, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The infrastructure law carves out billions of dollars of transportation-related funding specifically for tribal communities.

“Historically, … the under investment that has taken place in America with regard to infrastructure has been especially hard on Indian Country,” Buttigieg said. “Just making sure that we’re finding the right kinds of projects that are going to make a difference, that can help with jobs, that can help with safety, that are going to help with climate, which is, again, impacting tribal communities disproportionately, that’s why it’s important we have these kind of engagements.”

Jeff Barela, the traffic safety director for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, said the state focuses on the “Three Es” to make the roads safer: education, enforcement and engineering.

“We’re constantly looking to help improve the safety on our roads,” he said.

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