A conversation with mayor Mitch Landrieu


This week marks the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This once-in-a-generation bipartisan bill is giving the economy and high streets across America a much-needed upgrade by increasing access to reliable high-speed Internet for millions of Americans, upgrading airports, ports and waterways, tackling climate change, and improving of the energy infrastructure.

Ensuring that the $1.2 trillion in law is properly and effectively managed is no small task. So President Biden brought in Mitch Landrieu as Senior Advisor to coordinate its implementation. He served as lieutenant governor of Louisiana and mayor of New Orleans, leading the reconstruction of Hurricane Katrina and other calamities.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mayor Landrieu about his efforts to date. I am grateful to him for taking the time and below is our conversation.

Rhett Buttle: As a former mayor, you are in a unique position to lead the implementation phase of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). What attracted you to this position and why did you join the Biden Administration?

Mayor Landrieu: First and foremost, I love Joe Biden and I thought he was the right person to lead this country – to stabilize us and prepare us for our future. But it was also my experience as mayor of New Orleans—after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Gustav—that brought me to this position. One of my top priorities as mayor, and before then as lieutenant governor, was rebuilding our schools, buildings, roads and hospitals. I have fought hard for the recovery and revitalization of the city, and I have learned firsthand that progress can only be achieved through close, bipartisan collaboration at the federal, state, and local levels, and with the private sector, non- for-profit and faith-based organizations.

That’s why they called and said, “We have a huge opportunity ahead of us. Will you help us figure out how to do it?”, I was honored and ready for the challenge. I was eager to see if we could use the lessons I learned to rebuild an entire city to rebuild the entire country. For decades we often heard that there was going to be an infrastructure week, and it never happened. It became a punch line under its predecessor. President Biden said, “If you choose me, I’ll get some people together and we’re going to get this done.” And he really did. I’m grateful to him for bringing Democrats and Republicans together and giving the nation a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build better. Through his leadership, we are building an infrastructure decade.

Rhett Buttle: It’s been nearly a year since the bipartisan infrastructure bill was signed and the president appointed you to serve as infrastructure coordinator and oversee the nation’s largest infrastructure investment in a generation. How is the implementation going?

Mayor Landrieu: I think it’s going very well. We have run to the fire and get a lot done. We focused on three big things: 1) building a team – and that means federal, state, local, non-profit and for-profit partners, 2) getting the funding out the door, and 3) the story tell the American people so they understand that this is a great opportunity for all of us to do more. As of today, we’ve announced more than $185 billion dollars going out the door and have more than 6,900 projects underway nationwide.

I’ll list a few highlights for you. First, we have made huge investments in roads and bridges, as well as airports and ports, to provide clean, efficient transit and strengthen supply chains. We deliver safe, clean water to millions of homes and schools by replacing lead pipes and investing in wastewater infrastructure. We bring affordable, high-speed internet to both rural and urban areas. We have built the first-ever national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging points. And we’re making the largest investment in history to clean up old pollution.

To make this happen, you need to build relationships. Most people don’t realize that 90% of this money will be spent by governors and mayors. So I’ve talked to every governor and I’ve asked all of them to appoint an infrastructure coordinator, and we now have 54 across the country, including in Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. This is a one team, one combat, one mission effort that can only be accomplished if we remain coordinated across the country, both horizontally and vertically.

Rhett Buttle: The bipartisan infrastructure bill has been hailed as an opportunity that will empower small businesses, especially minority businesses left behind by federal programs in the past. Can you describe how the BIL has a positive impact on small and minority businesses?

Mayor Landrieu: It will have a huge impact on them for a number of reasons. I’ll give you a few examples that I’ve seen up close. I was in East Las Vegas just a few weeks ago where we awarded a $25 million grant to rebuild a major corridor in the shadow of the strip called Stewart Avenue. This street, which is located in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, is currently impassable. Children cannot safely walk where they need to – to school, to the library or the playground. Pedestrians may want to shop nearby but have no sidewalks to walk on. So we’re going to rebuild that corridor, and as a result, we’re going to help the businesses in the area grow. In fact, a business owner came up to me that day and told me how much our investment would help his taqueria.

I was also just in Derry, New Hampshire, where we deposited $75 million at exit 4A on I-93, largely to ease congestion in downtown Derry. Our investment opens up space in Derry for economic development and for the opening of numerous small businesses. And those are just a few specific ways the president’s infrastructure law is lifting small and minority businesses.

The bottom line is that we’re very focused on making sure everyone here gets a piece of the pie. The president has set a goal of increasing federal spending on smaller underprivileged businesses by 50% by 2025. We’re taking that goal seriously in our implementation — prioritizing hiring minority and small businesses in many of our programs — and if we can achieve that, we’re going to spend about $100 billion more on contracts with owned companies over the next three years. of minorities. This is a very focused effort by the President to ensure that we are boosting all communities – rural, urban, black, white, brown – so that no one is left behind and everyone has access to opportunity.

Rhett Buttle: Since we’re only a year into it, what does the future look like for the continued implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law – specifically the role of racial equality?

Mayor Landrieu: We’re just getting started. This is a massive effort, essentially rebuilding the country. We have made great progress, but there is still much work to be done. All too often people of color have to deal with the consequences of our infrastructure failures – potholed roads, orphaned gas and oil wells, or highways that cut through communities. That’s why, for example, we’re going to invest $21 billion over the next five years to eliminate the pollution of the past that disproportionately affects communities of color and poverty in all parts of the United States.

Billions are spent specifically to address issues such as lead pipes, the need for drought resilience, and inadequate wastewater infrastructure. Two million Americans do not have indoor plumbing in their homes. We went to a house in Lowndes County, Alabama, where the homeowner showed us where the garbage is sticking out of the back of the house. You can imagine being a mom and letting your kids go outside and worrying that they might accidentally play in or near sewers while there. It really breaks your heart, and we need to do better in America.

We also have $65 billion dollars to close the digital divide in our country. You’ve heard the president say a million times that access to knowledge is the great equalizer. But today, in our 21st century economy, more than 30% of our native land population lacks access to high-speed internet, and rural America is consistently lagging behind. That’s unacceptable, which is why the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is investing $2 billion in the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, as well as $2 billion in USDA’s Reconnect Program, which focuses on bringing high-speed internet to rural communities. That’s why we’ve also created the Affordable Connectivity Program, which will reduce Internet bills for certain households by up to $30 per month, or by $75 for households in indigenous countries. You can’t beat that deal. Nearly 4.8 million households have signed up so far, but we want millions more to come. That’s why we’re working to spread the word about GetInternet.govwhere everyone can see if they qualify for those discounts.

By the way, I want you to know that you can find more details about everything we discuss at Build.govour site with all the details you need about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Rhett Buttle: What would you say to private sector stakeholders seeking to better understand or seek opportunities under the bipartisan infrastructure law?

Mayor Landrieu: This is the most significant opportunity the private sector has had to grow the economy in the last 60 years, because the government is not doing all of this work alone. We can’t even do this half on our own. Rebuilding our roads and bridges or laying the fiber optic cable for high speed internet will be done to a large extent by private companies. All the money we invest in clean energy will be used by a mix of public and private entities.

We send an incredible market signal through our investments, and private companies understand this. $135 billion has already been announced in private sector investment in the production of electric vehicles, batteries and chargers. Ford, GM and others are now spending billions of dollars modifying and building new factories to make new cars. You see that companies like Siemens, GM and Micron are announcing a huge investment in building chips. Ultimately, we must work together to open up opportunities and make progress in the country. One of my key messages to private sector stakeholders is this: work with us. Seize the unprecedented opportunities ahead to truly innovate and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure better than ever before.


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