Southern Indiana

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured Tell City in Southern Indiana on Wednesday to highlight federal infrastructure funding in the region.

Tell City, like many Hoosier communities along the Ohio River, relies heavily on barge traffic to fuel its local economy. An integral part of that shipping network is the Tell City River Port, where Buttigieg started his visit.

Port and city officials gave Buttigieg a tour of the facility that will be revamped with $1.6 million from a federal Department of Transportation grant.

“That’s needed investment for a long time,” Buttigieg said. “The pier there is not able structurally to carry the kinds of loads that it takes to get all of those raw materials to Waupaca [Foundry]. When the waters run too high or too low, and it’s pretty often you have one or the other, sometimes loading is restricted or even impossible.”

The funding will help fund a new pier that will include a land-based crane to supplement the current floating crane.

More than 80,000 tons of material comes through the port every year. Buttigieg said the improvements could increase productivity at the port by 60%.

After a stop at the local VFW branch, Buttigieg met with dozens of local residents and officials at City Hall to discuss the project. Flanked by Tell City Mayor Chris Cail and INDOT Director Michael Smith, he touted the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“The conversation on the news is often in the trillions and in the billions [of dollars],” he said. “But one community at a time, we see how much one or two million dollars can do.  And that’s especially true if you multiply it out by the thousands of communities that are ready to put these dollars out to good use.”

For Tell City, a city of about 7,500 residents located 70 miles east of Louisville, Buttigieg said that impact goes beyond the economic output at local factories.

He said communities “rise and fall” based on the quality of their infrastructure, including roads, waterways and internet access. And for Hoosier communities across the state to succeed, he said officials at every level of government must work to modernize infrastructure.

“They’re not just turning that pig iron into automotive parts,” Buttigieg said. “They’re turning it into prosperity. They’re turning it into middle-class incomes. They’re turning it into sponsorships for the little league team and dues for the VFW. They’re turning it into a living, and that’s what this is all about. That’s how infrastructure can create and sustain and protect a whole range of jobs.”

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.