NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Confirmation hearings got underway Thursday for President Joe Biden's nominee for secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg.
The 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana fielded questions from a Senate committee about the nation's badly-needed infrastructure projects.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal was the first to question Buttigieg, a former Democratic presidential candidate, about the Gateway Project, which calls for building two new Hudson River tunnels and then taking the old tunnels out of service one at a time for renovation.
The project has been held up over funding and approvals, but Blumenthal is hopeful the project will move forward under the new administration.
"[Buttigieg] responded very favorably when I pressed him on the Hudson tunnels and the Gateway Project," Blumenthal told WCBS 880's Lynda Lopez. "He seems to have a very clear sense of the urgency. These tunnels are 111 years old, and they are rapidly degrading, decrepit and clearly in need of rebuilding and replacement. So I think he understands that the tunnels are part of a larger transportation network that's vital to the entire northeast, as well as the whole nation."
In addition to the age, the tunnels are also part of the nation's busiest passenger rail corridor.
At the hearing, several Republicans asked how the federal government would pay for the billions in infrastructure. Buttigieg did not specify where money could come from for big investments.
Asked about whether he expects a lot of opposition trying to move the project forward Blumenthal said, "The Republicans raised the issue of cost, but this investment — and it's an investment in our transportation future as well as our economy — clearly should be at the very top of the list of projects nationally."
Blumenthal also insists that it would be a "well-worth" investment.
"This kind of project puts people back to work, it creates construction investment in the kind of project that will last not just for 10 or 20 years, but literally for generations," he said.
In 2015, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told the Obama administration that their states would pay for half if the federal government would foot the bill for the other 50%, but Blumenthal said the spending divisions still need to be worked out.
The senator is hopeful the federal government would take a larger share of the financial burden given the states' current deficits and the devastating economic impact of the pandemic.
"I would hope that the federal government will step up without imposing that 50% or 60% or even 40% burden on the states," Blumenthal said.
Both New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy have offered Buttigieg a tour of the Hudson River tunnels, and Blumenthal hopes that he accepts.
"I'm going to press him to do it," Blumenthal said. "He has a lot on his plate, as they say, in his first few weeks, but I can guarantee you I will extend a very, very courteous, but firm invitation as a member of the Commerce Committee."
A Senate committee vote on Buttigieg's nomination could come as soon as next week.
In November, Schumer said Biden was committed to the project.