CEDAR RAPIDS — U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in eastern Iowa Thursday, visiting two projects that have received federal grants from the infrastructure bill President Biden signed in 2021.

The Eastern Iowa Airport got a $20 million grant. “The funding in this case is going to allow the team to complete a passenger terminal expansion that adds four addition passenger gates to accommodate more flights,” Buttigieg said, “improved accessibility for travelers with disabilities and more ways to fly to or from eastern Iowa with the kind of frequency that gives you more options and a good experience when you do so.”

Buttigieg, in an outdoor news conference in front of construction crews at the site, noted the Eastern Iowa Airport is located on Wright Brothers Boulevard, a reminder America ushered in the aviation age.

“It’s appropriate, then, that Americans ought to have the best air travel in the world, but we’ve been slipping,” Buttigieg said. “We slipped as a country with decades of underinvestment.”

Buttigieg has been touring the country, visiting ports, bridges, bus stations and other sites that are getting infrastructure grants from the Biden Administration. Buttigieg’s second stop was in Dubuque, at a pedestrian bridge over railroad tracks that will be a new path for walking and biking. “It’s going to make the roads safer and support jobs in that great downtown there,” Buttigieg said, “so in so many ways transportation is essential to the quality of life and economic strength and safety that we all depend on.”

The Department of Transportation has so far awarded $93 million to Iowa projects being funded by the nearly two year old infrastructure law.

Cities in the Cedar Rapids metro have made three unsuccessful applications to another US DOT program that awards grants to significant regional transportation projects. Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Robins and Linn County have been seeking federal funding for a four-lane road that would connect Interstate 380 to Highway 13. Buttigieg said his agency will work with applicants on grant requests.

“Sometimes when they succeed it’s on the second, third or fourth or even more outing as they continue chiseling the project,” Buttigieg said. “…At the time I want to be transparent about just how competitive these programs are.”

There were nearly 10,000 applicants for DOT RAISE grants last year and only 166 projects were approved for funding.

Buttigieg told the crowd gathered at the Eastern Iowa Airport  this likely will be the busiest Memorial Day weekend for air travel since before the pandemic. Buttigieg said airlines could be grounded next month, though, if there’s no agreement to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling and federal workers in air traffic control and TSA checkpoints are furloughed. During a news conference at the airport, Buttigieg was asked about LGBTQ bills in the state legislature and he suggested Republican lawmakers have a priority problem.

“Here we are in Cedar Rapids working on making life a little easier for airline passengers,” Buttigieg said, “and they’re over there in Des Moines working on making life a little harder for LGBTQ high schoolers.”

Buttigieg, who won the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2020 Caucuses, is the first openly gay candidate for president to win a state caucus or primary.