U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined state and local officials at the Gary/Chicago International Airport on Wednesday, where he touted the billions of federal dollars invested in projects around the country through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
According to the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, Indiana is on track to receive more than $7.92 billion in transportation-focused funding from the law, including over $6.5 billion for roads and bridges, $100 million for electric vehicles, and $170 million for improvements to Indiana airports.
“I think we can all agree that transportation infrastructure is a place where we can find a lot of common ground,” Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Mike Smith said at the event. “Record investments are being made, not only to maintain our infrastructure, but to improve our infrastructure, not only with our roads and bridges, but as evidenced here today, with all modes of transportation.”
Gary’s airport received a total of $8 million in federal community project funds in 2022 and 2023, with the money going toward a specialized fire truck, snow removal equipment, a heavy air cargo logistics apron and a new sanitary sewer for the cargo center. The airport has requested another $3.5 million in federal funds for 2024, which would help further expand its cargo operations, airport executive director Dan Vicari said.
Gary Mayor Jerome Prince said that the expansion of airport operations will provide a significant boost to the region’s economy.
“The Gary/Chicago International Airport is poised to soar,” he said, “and there’s certainly a pun intended, but this is probably the best opportunity that the city of Gary — and not only the city but the region — has seen in a while.”
IIJA dollars have been put to use at various projects across the region, including in Hammond and Shererville, where the Department of Transportation’s Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program awarded the cities $7 million and $8.4 million, respectively, for the construction of new overpasses. The projects are aimed at alleviating the dangers and delays associated with at-grade rail crossings, problems that gained renewed public attention after an April ProPublica report showcased shocking videos of Hammond students clambering over or under stopped trains on their way to school.
“This is completely unacceptable for the United States of America or anywhere else,” Buttigieg told reporters.
Buttigieg’s visit was part of a multi-stop tour of Hoosier State sites benefited by federal infrastructure investments, including stops in Elkhart and Indianapolis. In Gary, he met with members of the United Steelworkers and greeted apprentice ironworkers before the airport news conference. Creating and sustaining union jobs, Buttigieg said, is an important part of the Biden administration’s economic agenda and a critical aspect of the IIJA.
“I hope you understand, first of all how much this legislation is about you,” he told the ironworkers. “We’re excited about using the airports and driving on the bridges and having those trains. We’re also excited about the work that is being created building those bridges and fixing those airports, making those railroad safe. We know that that is creating opportunity for you that you can plan a career around, that you can buy a house with, that you can educate your kids with.”
During his remarks at the news conference, U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan, D-Highland, highlighted the ongoing push for an IIJA-funded Midwestern “hydrogen hub.” The legislation allocated up to $7 billion to establish six to 10 regional projects aimed at developing hydrogen energy infrastructure. The Midwest Alliance for Clean Hydrogen, which brings together over 60 public and private entities across the region, submitted its application in April. The U.S. Department of Energy will announce funding awards to hydrogen hubs in the fall.
Mrvan urged Buttigieg to “talk to your boss” about the Midwestern bid, which he said “will put people to work for the next 10-15 years.”
Buttigieg’s remarks included a veiled criticism of Republican legislators in Indiana and other red states who recently passed bills aimed at restricting the types of library materials available to students.
“We’re about building bridges,” he said. “We’re not interested in banning books.”