Obama's Secretary of Transportation reveals 3 infrastructure problems that Trump needs to solve

On January 24, the Senate Committee
on Commerce, Science and Transportation voted unanimously
to approve former US Labour Secretary Elaine Chao as the Trump administration’s Secretary of Transportation. If the full Senate approves the nomination, she will oversee federal regulations on everything from airlines to mass transit to roads.

Trump’s infrastructure plan, released in October, outlines his administration’s policy agenda for things like water systems and transportation. The plan budgets $1 trillion for highway and bridge projects, and emphasises tax cuts to private-sector investors.

The new White House website includes a promise to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary” environmental regulations, and to tap domestic energy reserves and use the revenue to rebuild roads.

In an interview with Business Insider in December, Anthony Foxx, who served as Secretary of Transportation in the Obama administration, outlined what he sees as the country’s greatest priorities when it comes to mobility.

Foxx said his ideas should not be taken as outright advice for the new administration, but instead as potential priorities for the future of transportation in the US.

Investing in repairs to mass transit

The US has a $90 billion backlog of repairs that need to be done on subways, buses, and rails, Foxx says. The backlog is projected to grow to $122 billion over the next 20 years if the country maintains its current levels of maintenance funding.

He points to the Washington DC Metro (which is in the midst of $118.8 million of repairs) and the Holland Tunnel between New York and New Jersey (which has been undergoing a $9.7 million concrete repair project since May) as examples of current projects that require a lot of federal and state funding.

“We also have needed multi-modal development in fast-growing areas out west and down in the southeast,” he tells BI.

Adding more reliable public transit options would help ease gridlock in places like Charleston and Los Angeles, where (like most US cities) congestion has increased in recent years.

Accommodating the nation’s growing population

When making investment decisions about transportation, Foxx says the incoming administration should keep population growth in mind. By 2045, a projected 395 million Americans (70 million more than today) will live in the US.

“Those people will want to use roads, will want to use transit; they’re going to want to get on their bikes and want to walk,” he says. “And if we haven’t made room to accommodate that growth, shame on us.”

Public transit — which was one of Foxx’s biggest focuses while working under Obama — is not mentioned in Trump’s plan.

Trump wants to create an infrastructure bank that would give tax credits to private investors, and theoretically generate revenue to finance infrastructure projects. However, as NPR notes, infrastructure banks usually only work well in conjunction with projects that generate a large amount of revenue from their users, like toll roads and airports. Public works projects, like subways and bike lanes, normally don’t generate as much revenue.

Providing multiple ways to get from point A to point B

Looking forward, Foxx says he would like to see an even bigger emphasis on multi-modal transportation — providing more options for people who want to walk, travel by bike, or use public transit.

“We’re a big country and we’ve got to be able to address the country that’s coming — not the country that we were in 1956,” says. “I think it’s really important to not just put more money in the pipeline, but make sure those pipes are the ones we want money flowing through in the 21st century.”

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