Infrastructure spending seen as way to grow Georgia economy, protect environment

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks alongside U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry.

Emil Moffatt/WABE

Standing just outside the Doraville MARTA station, U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg says an investment in public transportation and making streets more pedestrian-friendly would especially help low-income Georgians and people of color.

“The community immediately surrounding us is one of the most diverse in the United States, yet many of the people who live here don’t have access to a car and in the last few years, dozens of pedestrians have been injured or killed in traffic crashes,” said Buttigieg.

That’s why he says the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill being debated in the Senate this week includes $11 billion dollars for safety improvements. Buttigieg was in Metro Atlanta Friday, emphasizing the need for the infrastructure spending. He also paid a visit to Curiosity Lab in Peachtree Corners.

“The reality is the federal government has not been doing enough to help, that’s why we believe this is the moment for a generational investment in our infrastructure,” he said.

Despite a bipartisan drafting of the bill, Senators have struggled this week to agree on amendments. A vote to end debate could come Saturday.

The bill also includes $130 million to bolster Georgia’s network of electric vehicle charging stations.

“These cars often have two-, three-, four-plus hundred mile ranges,” said Buttigieg. But it can be an issue if you’re taking road trips or working all day, that’s where these piece of charging infrastructure matter so much.”

Investment in Georgia’s electric vehicle industry is seen by many as a win-win. Not only can it boost the state’s economy, it can also mean less air pollution.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visits with Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

Two electric vehicle battery plants in Northeast Georgia are set to open in the coming years. Russell McMurry who leads the state’s transportation department also notes that Kia Motors and school bus maker Bluebird – are ramping up production of electric vehicles.

“I’m super excited that Georgia plays a big role in the deployment of electric vehicles, as we have so many companies that are in the EV manufacturing market,” said McMurry.

Georgia 7th District Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux agrees: more money spent on the electric vehicle industry will be great for Georgia’s bottom line.

“But we’re also going to do good, by this. What we know is we need to tackle the existential threat of climate change,” said Bourdeaux.

Heather McTeer Toney with the Environmental Defense Fund is a former administrator for the EPA Southeast Region under former President Barack Obama. She says investing in a “clean” economy is hard to do without the resources of the federal government.

“This is truly a tremendous time to really tap into the funding that’s coming from the federal government,” said “But also to leverage it with the funding that we’re seeing organically and with the support of local governments in the Atlanta Metro area.”