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On Infrastructure: Buttigieg Casts Doubt on Gas Taxes, Touts Rail

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg says rail service in America is "inferior" compared with service in other industrialized nations. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg says rail service in America is "inferior" compared with service in other industrialized nations. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
February 19, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is critical of the federal government's use of gas taxes and its failures to improve rail service -- issues that both are hot topics in Virginia.

The United for Infrastructure conference in Las Vegas, billed as the first 2020 campaign event to focus on the issue, featured Democratic candidates Buttigieg, Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer. All agreed that the nation needs to invest more to repair aging roads and bridges, but they were more cautious on whether to raise the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993 for infrastructure needs.

Buttigieg told the crowd that the nation needs to be realistic about the future of gas taxes.

"We are going to have to graduate from the gas tax because we're going to have to graduate from gas," said Buttigieg, who will attend a town hall in Fairfax this Sunday. "We know that it is not a viable, long-term funding mechanism for our highways."

Virginia's General Assembly just passed two separate bills raising the state gas tax: Senate Bill 890 and House Bill 1414.

All four candidates said they support more commuter and high-speed rail investment to reduce highway traffic, but Buttigieg focused on the need to improve rail service on the busy Northeast corridor, particularly between Washington and New York and between Washington and Richmond. He said the Amtrak line that follows Interstate 95 is antiquated and causes bottlenecks in regions that still run on single tracks.

"We've got to decide whether we think it's OK for the greatest country in the world to have inferior transportation when it comes to rail," he said. "It just doesn't make sense, and I don't know why Americans should be tolerating inferior service relative to fellow members of industrialized economies."

The Commonwealth has pledged to invest almost $4 billion in rail over the next decade to reduce the number of single-track areas and increase train speeds. The number of Amtrak trains operating in Virginia is expected to double by 2030.

The texts of SB 890 and HB 1414 are online, as is information about the United for Infrastructure conference.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA