WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — While Washington continues negotiations over the nation’s next infrastructure plan, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traveled to Memphis Thursday where a concrete example of the need for crucial repairs stands.
The I-40 bridge that connects Tennessee and Arkansas closed nearly three weeks ago due to a beam fracture. Local, state and federal officials are using it to drive the broader infrastructure debate.
“Safety is the heart of what’s happened at the de Soto Bridge,” Buttigieg said during a roundtable discussion. “Take this as a moment to look at why infrastructure matters so much.”
I-40 stretches from California to North Carolina. Trucking associations told Buttigieg the bridge’s closure forces thousands of truck drivers a day to choose between a 60-minute delay or 60-mile reroute, which results in millions of dollars lost. They said it also impacts driver shortages and shifts.
“We have to make sure that we create certainty as well as safety both for businesses and for families,” Buttigieg said.
The roundtable discussion quickly turned to Washington where pressure continues to build on Congress to pass an infrastructure plan.
“We want to see that this problem doesn’t occur again,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-TN.
Cohen said lawmakers have to come up with a sustainable funding mechanism, which Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, stressed has to include money for repairs.
“If you build something, you have to maintain it,” Blackburn said.
Senate Republicans and the Biden administration are still at odds over how to fund an infrastructure bill, but Buttigieg is hopeful they can bridge their differences.
“This is the highest priority of our government,” he said.
Buttigieg had said administration officials saw this Monday as when they wanted “a clear direction” on where infrastructure talks were going. But on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that’s not a hard deadline.