Hidalgo, a longtime LGBTQ ally, was in Washington, DC to discuss the American Rescue Plan’s positive impacts on Harris County residents. While in DC on December 7, she sat down with the openly gay Buttigieg to discuss Harris County’s transportation needs.
“Great meeting with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg today in D.C.,” Hidalgo wrote on Facebook. “We’re working towards a paradigm shift on transportation in Harris County, to a system that prioritizes people over cars. Glad to have a partner in Secretary Pete Buttigieg who shares and supports that vision.”
The meeting between Hidalgo and Buttigieg occurred a day after news broke that federal highway officials were visiting Houston to investigate the civil-rights and environmental impacts of the controversial I-45 freeway expansion project. Harris County sued the Texas Department of Transportation over the project in March, but the County Commissioner’s Court on November 16 voted unanimously to pause that lawsuit during the ongoing negotiations.
The Greater Houston area (which comprises parts of Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Waller, Montgomery, Chambers, Liberty, and Galveston counties) ranked third in the nation in the number of hours each driver was delayed on the road, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI)’s 2021 Urban Mobility Report. Houston also ranked second nationally when it came to extra fuel wasted by traffic congestion, and fifth nationwide in annual congestion costs per driver in 2020.
Despite Houston’s dismal national rankings, TTI’s senior research scientist David Shrank told Community Impact Newspaper that Houston has done a good job with traffic solutions that diversify its transportation options to include high-occupancy vehicle lanes and expanded bus routes and METRORail.
President Biden’s newly passed infrastructure bill, which will pour $110 billion into roads, bridges, and other transportation programs, could further help Harris County commuters. “We’re [developing] whole new programs when it comes to funding to reconnect communities that have been divided by sometimes discriminatory construction in the past, or the work that we need to do to set up a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers,” Buttigieg told NPR last month.
In addition to evaluating local transportation projects, Hidalgo and Buttigieg most likely discussed their history-making political victories. After being elected in 2018, Hidalgo became the first woman and the first Latina to serve as a Harris County judge. Buttigieg, who was Indiana’s first out mayor, became the first openly LGBTQ cabinet member when he was appointed as Biden’s transportation secretary in February.