U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, along with Colorado’s U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, visited Glenwood Springs on Friday, Feb. Feb. 25. The gentlemen were here to assess the progress and work that still needs to be done on I-70 in the Glenwood Canyon. They also got the chance to jump on an eco-friendly RFTA bus and speak with local Latino representatives including Alex Sanchez of Voces Unidas and director of Protegete for Conservation Colorado, Beatriz Soto. “Latinos must be an integral part in elevating local transportation issues and helping craft solutions and identifying opportunities,” Soto told The Sopris Sun. As Soto explained to Secretary Buttigieg, “We need transportation solutions where housing and economic growth are at the center to achieve a just society that will not only have a smaller carbon footprint, but will uplift the working class of our community.” Photo of Alex Sanchez and Secretary Buttigieg by James Steindler

The city of Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley welcomed a member of the U.S. presidential cabinet on Friday, Feb. 25. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg got the chance to hop on a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) bus at its maintenance facility near Glenwood Meadows and take a tour of the area.

According to a press release, Buttigieg was in Colorado to “highlight how President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law — with its historic investments in roads, bridges, transit, EV [electric vehicle] charging and more — will help states like Colorado carry out critical projects that relieve congestion, strengthen the supply chain, create jobs and bring down costs for Americans.”

Before boarding one of RFTA’s eco-friendly buses, Buttigieg mingled with local representatives, while onlookers and media persons swarmed the scene. Buttigieg was accompanied by Colorado’s U.S. Senators, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet.

Before boarding, Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes addressed the crowd, informing them that RFTA is the largest rural transit agency in the nation. The mayor also thanked Buttigieg and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Executive Director Shoshana Lew for their work and financial support toward the cleanup and reconstruction of Interstate 70, “the state’s lifeline,” as he put it.

Alex Sanchez, the president and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, two regional Latino-led advocacy organizations, was also present and had the opportunity to ride the bus with the secretary and the two senators.

Sanchez told The Sopris Sun that he stressed to the secretary, “Infrastructure and transportation investments need to better serve residents who live in the more than 70 mobile home parks in the central mountain region,” and that “often, transit stops or options are not convenient for our working class commuters.

Sanchez echoed a point made by Mayor Godes, stating that the housing crisis is becoming a transportation crisis. Sanchez put it this way, “I also helped him [Buttigieg] understand that housing is not affordable in the region and that working families, the backbone of our communities, live further and further away from the downtown infrastructure.” The increased distance between work and home requires a reliable transportation option.

The Voces Unidas executive director also mentioned that, according to data the organization has collected, Latinos in the central mountain and Western Slope regions would like to see “improvements and expansion to public transportation, more so than Latinos in other parts of the state.”

Secretary Buttigieg told The Sopris Sun about his experience riding a RFTA bus and some of the details of a conversation he had with a Colorado Mountain College student who frequently uses RFTA. “I spoke with a student named David who really counts on this to be able to get to different campus sites that are part of his studies in the community college system. He talked about it as being absolutely vital to his ability to pursue his studies, being able to count on the frequency.”

Buttigieg emphasized that frequency is important so people can rely on the transportation service to meet their daily routines. “Sometimes our conversations about transportation infrastructure focus too much on the assets and not enough on the people, but the reason we’re doing all of this is to help people go about their lives.” Circling back to David, Buttigieg summarized, “He mentioned that because there’s a reliable system he can focus more on his actual studies and less on how to physically get around — that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.” 

In conclusion, the secretary commended RFTA for making an effort to get ahead of the climate crisis by investing in hybrid-electric vehicles and cutting down on traffic congestion.

“Just a broader reflection on RFTA, in addition to seeing what they’re doing to try to help people manage around the housing cost in this area,” began Buttigieg, “I was struck by the fact that for this community that is on the business-end of climate change, they’re also trying to be on the front-end of climate change with electric and low emission busses in their facilities that are going to help them be part of the solution.”