U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday said the Rickenbacker Causeway might benefit from a relatively new program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Buttigieg made several references to climate change and resilience during his remarks to elected officials and longshoremen at the Port of Miami, where he promoted investments that will reduce pollution from idling cruise ships and increase the capacity to move cargo.
When asked about the Rickenbacker, which served as a vivid backdrop on a spectacular sunny day, Buttigieg acknowledged that transportation facilities vulnerable to hurricanes could rank higher in what he said were very competitive requests for funding.
“Resilience issues like vulnerability to hurricanes is a mounting concern,” he said, addingthe PROTECT program, authorized in April, is intended to address infrastructure resilience improvements.
“That’s everything from hurricane evacuation routes to wildfire mitigation. We’ve never had a program like that at the DOT (Department of Transportation),” he said. “And we’re working to mobilize those dollars and get them out to improve those pieces of infrastructure that are most needed.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who joined several other officials in praising Buttiegieg as the “most powerful” transportation secretary ever, said the Rickenbacker would be a topic in private conversations.
“We’re going to talk about it in our next moment together,” she said.
In February, Levine Cava told the Miami-Dade County Commission that the administration will select a consultant to develop a causeway master plan early next year. The County rejected a privately financed causeway redevelopment plan – Plan Z – last year.
In the meantime, the County is in the preliminary stages of replacing the Bear Cut Bridge connecting Key Biscayne to Virginia Key.
Federal grant programs, however, are intricately complex and involve scoring systems to identify areas with greatest need. The PROTECT program authorizes $7.3 billion that is sent to states to distribute, with another $1.4 billion that can be awarded on a discretionary basis directly to municipalities.
It’s not clear what Miami-Dade County may have applied for directly from Washington, or as part of the larger pool of PROTECT funds that is earmarked for states to distribute.
At the seaport, the County is benefiting from a $16 million grant to expand rail and cargo gate capacity intended to relieve supply chain issues. A separate $5 million grant will help with the port’s Net Zero program, which is aimed at allowing cruise ships to operate on shore power while in port instead of pumping diesel exhaust into the atmosphere.
“It wasn’t that long ago that infrastructure week was a punchline in Washington. Now, it is truly the beginning of an infrastructure decade,” Buttigieg said.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.