Project Connect supporters welcome Biden's nomination of Pete Buttigieg for transportation secretary
President-elect Joe Biden announced his nomination of Pete Buttigieg for Secretary of Transportation on Tuesday, which public transit advocates say will be good for local initiatives such as Austin's Project Connect.
Buttigieg served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, before unsuccessfully running for the Democratic presidential nomination against Biden.
As mayor, Buttigieg secured $200 million in private investment in downtown South Bend, which led to job growth and facilitated public-private partnerships to improve the local transportation system, according to a press release from the Biden-Harris transition team. He also launched a "Smart Streets" initiative similar to Austin's "Great Streets" master plan.
Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke congratulated Buttigieg on Twitter, saying that he is "looking forward to (his) leadership helping build Project Connect."
Congratulations on your historic nomination. Yes you can find love on transportation. You got engaged in an ✈️ term… https://t.co/CibXW3TsP6— Randy Clarke 😷 (@Randy Clarke 😷)1608147028.0
"In Mayor Pete, President-Elect Biden has found one of the smartest, most innovative, caring, and effective civic leaders in the country to deliver transformational infrastructure projects," he said in a statement Tuesday.
Adler added that he looks forward to working with Buttigieg if he is appointed to the office, on Project Connect, a $7.1 billion overhaul of the city's transit system. About half of the project's budget will come from a city property tax rate increase, which Austin voters overwhelmingly approved on Nov. 3. The rest will need to come from federal grants overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
"This project, with its emphasis on mitigating climate change and addressing historic systemic inequities, would seem to be exactly the kind of infrastructure project this country needs, and that reflects the future Secretary's stated priorities," Adler said in the statement.
Indeed, Buttigieg outlined his priorities—job creation, addressing climate change and enhancing equity—in a tweet on Wednesday.
This is a moment of tremendous opportunity—to create jobs, meet the climate challenge, and enhance equity for all.… https://t.co/FNT74F6lHf— Pete Buttigieg (@Pete Buttigieg)1608077991.0
They align with the main aims of Project Connect, which will bring two new light rail lines to Austin and includes a $300 million anti-displacement fund.
Others feel similarly optimistic about Project Connect's prospects under the incoming Biden administration.
American Public Transportation Association Chairperson Nuria Ferrnandez is hopeful that Capital Metro will be able to secure the federal funding it needs to bring light rails to Austin.
"We know public transportation will have a friend in the White House come January," she said during an Austin Chamber event last month.
Chad Chitwood, a spokesperson for APTA, elaborated.
"President-elect Biden has been a tireless champion for public transit and passenger rail," he wrote in an email to Austonia. "He has seen the millions of Americans that rely on bus and rail to get to work, visit their families, and engage in their communities, and he knows just how much it means to them to have mobility through public transit."
This support will be critical as many public transit agencies across the country are facing budget shortfalls—and service cuts—due to the pandemic. It also represents a sharp departure from the current administration.
Although Congress appropriates federal transit dollars, such legislation must be signed by the president. Since entering office, President Donald Trump has consistently tried to cut funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a report by Bloomberg City Lab.
Already, things are looking up for Project Connect—despite the ongoing challenges Capital Metro faces because of the pandemic.
Capital Metro announced Monday that it had been awarded a $900,000 grant by the Federal Transit Administration. It will go toward Project Connect's anti-displacement efforts.
"The … grant award comes only one month after Austinites made a historic decision to fund Project Connect, and it is the first example of federal funding Capital Metro expects to secure in support of the program," according to a press release from the transit agency.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will decide whether to confirm Buttigieg.
Typically, the president-elect's cabinet nominees have confirmation hearings in advance of Inauguration Day. However, the increasingly polarized political climate means that these hearings have become more contentious in recent years.
President Donald Trump's transportation secretary nominee, Elaine Chao, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Jan. 31, 2017, less than two weeks after Trump's inauguration.
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."