Pete Buttigieg discusses infrastructure with Summit County leaders
The secretary of transportation also announced an initiative to help communities
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg met with state and local leaders in Salt Lake City on Friday to learn about how communities have responded to extreme weather events and to unveil a new program intended to help prepare them for future climate-induced problems.
Gov. Spencer Cox welcomed Buttigieg on the steps of the Capitol, where the secretary announced the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Act. The $7.3 billion federal initiative uses a formula to provide the states funding for projects aimed at bolstering transportation infrastructure against natural disasters and other weather.
Buttigieg then traveled to a small fire station in Emigration Canyon, where he was joined by Summit County Council Chair Chris Robinson and Kathryn McMullin, the county’s emergency manager, Unified Fire Authority Chief Dominic Burchett and other first responders, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson as well as representatives from the Utah Department of Natural Resources and the Utah Department of Transportation. The group discussed the 2021 Parleys Canyon Fire, the work of first responders in the Salt Lake area and how safety can be improved by investing in infrastructure.
“Our announcement this morning featured the bipartisan nature of the desire to make investments that are needed. Being able to see the burn scars, to directly have a sense of what some of you all were up against and are dealing with, especially when you see from a transportation perspective how near some of those neighboring zones are to I-80, which is a vital part of our supply chain and people’s commutes alike,” Buttigieg said.
As extreme weather events like heatwaves, wildfires and flooding become more frequent because of climate change, Buttigieg said he wants to help local-level leaders create future solutions with the PROTECT Act. He also sought insight from leaders about how they’ve prepared residents for emergencies and what’s been most useful when tackling crises.
Robinson spoke about the tense moments as the Parleys Canyon Fire crept toward Summit Park, forcing evacuations. He said the area started as a summer home community before transitioning into full-time residences. The area has limited access and is surrounded by vegetation that can fuel fires.
McMullin highlighted how the county enacted its emergency response plan and coordinated with other jurisdictions to respond to the fire. Robinson added the county is proactive on planning investments that will prevent catastrophe and promote adaptability.
Under the basic framework of the PROTECT Act, counties can use the funds for resilience planning, improvements to existing infrastructure and evacuation routes and to address at-risk highway infrastructure. Buttigieg said the idea is to dedicate money to fund important transportation assessments while allowing local control.
Robinson did not specify how Summit County leaders hoped to use any available funds but said they would be beneficial. He noted the Park City area receives large amounts of visitors, which creates unique planning challenges when considering how tourists would evacuate if certain routes were unavailable.
“We do have unique situations there and some of this PROTECT initiative could help us there,” Robinson said.
The Summit County Wildland Fire Unit is a county-founded, volunteer-run resource created to assist with an extended wildfire.
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