Chamberlain City Administrator Clint Soulek, left, shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Sept. 11, 2023, at the Chamberlain Municipal Airport. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)
CHAMBERLAIN — After the previous presidential administration talked about addressing the country’s infrastructure, “We’re actually making it happen,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Monday in South Dakota.
Buttigieg is on a two-day tour of the state to spotlight federal investments in infrastructure. His first stop was the Chamberlain Municipal Airport, which recently received $855,000 from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, leading to plans for a new terminal. The airport is also receiving about $700,000 from the bill to repave and extend the runway.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, signed the infrastructure bill into law in 2021 after it passed through Congress without any yes votes from South Dakota’s all-Republican congressional delegation.
Although Buttigieg didn’t refer to former President Donald Trump by name, some of the secretary’s comments sounded like a rebuttal of a campaign rally Trump attended Friday in Rapid City. In that speech, Trump said the nation’s “once revered airports are a dirty, crowded mess.” He also said other political leaders “don’t care about South Dakota.”
Buttigieg on Monday stressed the importance of federal aid for rural places.
“A project doesn’t have to be in the billions of dollars, and a population doesn’t have to be in the millions to matter,” he said.
His mention of the previous administration’s infrastructure “talk” was a reference to Trump’s largely unsuccessful 2016 campaign pledge to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. Trump has been criticized for failing to deliver on that pledge, despite several iterations of an “Infrastructure Week” during his administration.
Under the Biden Administration, according to information from Buttigieg’s press office, about $1.3 billion in federal funding has been announced for 137 infrastructure projects across South Dakota.
Chamberlain City Administrator Clint Soulek explained the need for his city’s airport project while leading Buttigieg on a tour. Soulek said medical transport planes are getting bigger, so a bigger terminal and longer runway is vital.
“And then during hunting season, a lot of guys fly into here,” Soulek said, referring to pheasant hunting, which is a major economic boon to Chamberlain and small towns across central and eastern South Dakota.
Buttigieg, referencing the Los Angeles International Airport, replied, “We’re trying to help people understand it’s not just the LAXs of the world we’re trying to help.”
The transportation secretary’s South Dakota visit also included a meeting with tribal leaders near Chamberlain and first responders in Sioux Falls on Monday, neither of which was open to the media. On Tuesday, Buttigieg will be in Salem discussing a truck-parking investment along a rest stop on Interstate 90.
The South Dakota tour is part of a broader campaign by the Biden administration to highlight the accomplishments of the bipartisan infrastructure law and its impact across the country.
Nobody from the governor’s office or the state’s congressional delegation attended Buttigieg’s visit to Chamberlain, although several local leaders and state Rep. Rebecca Reimer, R-Chamberlain, were in attendance.
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