Biden administration blitzes Georgia to sell infrastructure plan

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux speaks Friday during a visit to Peachtree Corners with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, left, in front of City Hall.  (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux speaks Friday during a visit to Peachtree Corners with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, left, in front of City Hall. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The nation’s top transportation official rolled into Atlanta’s suburbs on Friday to promote the bipartisan infrastructure plan as part of an intense White House effort to sell Georgians on the $1 trillion overhaul.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s visit to Peachtree Corners and Doraville came as the U.S. Senate neared a key vote on the package, which President Joe Biden likened to game-changing federal investments of the past such as the construction of the interstate highway system.

With the suburban stops, Buttigieg sought to give the plan a Georgia flavor, stressing that it could decrease congestion in the traffic-choked arteries outside the Perimeter, help curb climate change and provide a jolt to the state’s burgeoning electric-vehicle industry.

“We see here how state and local, private and philanthropic partners are already at work creating our transportation future,” he said. “It’s time for the federal government to step up and do its part, too.”

He’s the third Cabinet official to visit metro Atlanta in the span of a week to tout the benefits of the bipartisan plan, underscoring the Biden administration’s focus on Georgia ahead of the 2022 elections.

Though the proposal has drawn support from key Republican lawmakers, state GOP leaders have panned it as too costly in the long run. Several seized on an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office that concluded it would increase deficits by about $256 billion over the next decade.

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, left, receives an overview Friday of a solar roadway that was installed along Technology Parkway in Peachtree Corners. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, left, receives an overview Friday of a solar roadway that was installed along Technology Parkway in Peachtree Corners.  (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

caption arrowCaption
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, left, receives an overview Friday of a solar roadway that was installed along Technology Parkway in Peachtree Corners. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Buttigieg and other supporters said the measure would pay long-term dividends by funneling $550 billion in new spending to reshape roads, waterworks and the electric grid. That includes about $1.5 billion for public transportation projects in Georgia and an additional $135 million to build electric-vehicle infrastructure in the state, Buttigieg said.

Among the supporters alongside Buttigieg was state Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry, who has served in that role under two Republican governors. McMurry heartily endorsed the infrastructure package, saying he was “super excited” about its potential to accelerate the electric-vehicle industry.

“One of the things that excites me the most, besides just the historic investment level that’s really going to move the nation forward, is the technology aspect that’s been so transformative in transportation,” McMurry said.

‘False choice’

Buttigieg’s visit to Peachtree Corners, the most populous city in Gwinnett County, was a strategic one. Long a Republican-controlled county, Gwinnett has transformed into a Democratic bastion — and a cornerstone of the party’s hopes in 2022.

With its publicly funded innovation center called the Curiosity Lab, Peachtree Corners brands itself as a “smart city” on the cutting edge of tech changes.

And Buttigieg toured an area of the Atlanta Tech Park that tests autonomous vehicles and discussed the city’s use of solar energy to power charging stations for electric vehicles. Later, he also visited the Doraville MARTA station to inspect crosswalk improvements.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, a Democrat who flipped a Gwinnett-based seat last year, stressed how the big spending on transportation could help spur smaller advancements.

“When we think about transportation, everybody always seems to focus on MARTA and the Beltline, which are great projects, but we have a lot of innovative projects in the area,” she said in an interview.

“Infrastructure is very bipartisan,” Bourdeaux said, “and it’s one of the issues I’m working on in a bipartisan fashion.”

The visit came a day after Biden unveiled new regulations meant to more rapidly spur the development of the electric-vehicle industry to curb climate change. It’s a bet that could pay dividends in Georgia, where an electric-vehicle-manufacturing industry is taking off.

A last-minute deal between rival South Korean companies earlier this year saved the development of a $2.6 billion SK Innovation electric battery plant in northeast Georgia that promises to create at least 2,600 jobs. And Georgia is racing to recruit Rivian, an electric-vehicle manufacturer looking to plant a second factory in the U.S.

“In our view, the movement of the automotive industry toward electric is inevitable, but having it made in the U.S. is not,” Buttigieg said, adding: “This is our chance to demonstrate that the old false choice of climate versus jobs will be broken in the 2020s.”

Biden nudges Senate over ‘historic’ $1T infrastructure bill

Despite a rocky week of fits and starts, President Joe Biden on Friday praised the Senate for edging the bipartisan infrastructure plan closer to passage, ahead of a key vote on the $1 trillion package.

As Biden spoke from the White House, he compared the “historic investment” to building the transcontinental railroad or the interstate highway system — lofty themes he has touched on before as he nudges Congress along. The public works projects being unleashed will be powered by good-paying, blue-collar jobs, he said.

The president’s note of encouragement offers a reset for lawmakers after frustrations mounted and tempers flared overnight as the Senate stalled out, unable to expedite the package to completion. Senators will be back for another weekend session.

A procedural vote was set for Saturday.

Associated Press