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Buttigieg visits Morgan State University

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Dr. Mansoureh Jeihani, Director and Professor, National Transportation Center at Morgan State
Callan Tansill-Suddath
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Dr. Mansoureh Jeihani, Director and Professor, National Transportation Center at Morgan State

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured one of Morgan State University’s trailblazing research facilities Wednesday.

During his visit, which also included a town hall in the school’s Center for the Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies, Buttigieg tested, among other things, Maryland’s only driving simulator that took him from I-95 to the Baltimore Convention Center. The program is being used to study things such as reaction times and human-computer interaction.

The projects he tested all play a key role in what he said is the future of transportation infrastructure.

“We have to open our imagination about what transportation even means, what transit even means, the difference between mobility and owning a vehicle, and how those things interact with each other,” Buttigieg said.

All the technology is being developed in the Urban Mobility and Equity Center within the school’s National Transportation Center. Morgan State is one of 35 universities in the country to house one of these centers, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation. It is one of only two historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to serve as “leads,” playing home base to consortiums with other area schools.

Buttigieg said President Joe Biden’s administration is looking to strengthen partnerships with HBCUs; he said Biden has issued an executive order to ensure that all departments are doing a better job of connecting with members of the community.

“We're proud of things like the partnership with Morgan State, and we need to have a whole lot more where this came from,” Buttigieg said, “What does it actually look like? Well, first of all, it's funding for research; it's making sure that federal dollars continue to be available for the kind of work that's happening here. And that needs to grow, and it is growing as part of this infrastructure law.”

He also said with the passage of the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year, transportation innovation is at a turning point.

“The obstacles are many, but we've just torn down one of them, which is not having any funding.”

Buttigieg said, “We're living through a period of extraordinary change in technology, some of the technologies that are being developed and managed right here.”

Morgan State University President David K. Wilson told WYPR Sec. Buttigieg’s visit was special because he understands the importance of research and innovation.

“He understands the equity piece and the centrality of Morgan State University in advancing that within the U.S. Department of Transportation. And so we're just thrilled that this is not a drive-by for him, but he is here for a substantive period of time.”

Wilson said the visit was equally important to Baltimore as a whole.

“This is the third or fourth time in the last few months that Sec. Buttigieg has been to Baltimore, and I think he understands all too well that Baltimore is a perfect laboratory for investing in transportation and climate, and, of course, in equity.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin together with the Democrats in Maryland’s Congressional delegation announced more than $409 million in federal funding over the next five years to improve roads, and bridges, and create jobs across the state.

Callan Tansill-Suddath is a State House Reporter for WYPR, where she covers the General Assembly.