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AASHTO 2018 Washington Briefing

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
AASHTO 2018 Washington Briefing
Washington, DC
February 28, 2018

Thank you, John [Schroer – AASHTO President and Commissioner of Tennessee DOT].  Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge some of the senior DOT leadership here today:

•          Derek Kan, Under Secretary for Policy

•          Jim Ray, Special Advisor to the Secretary for Infrastructure

•          Brandye Hendrickson, FHWA Acting Administrator

•          Butch Waidelich, FHWA Executive Director

They are here to get to know you, listen to your concerns and share information.

It seems like just yesterday that we last gathered for this conference.  A lot has transpired over the past year.  I am pleased to report back to you that it has been a very productive year at DOT as we have made progress in advancing toward achieving our goals. 

The Administration’s comprehensive infrastructure proposal – informed to a significant degree by AASHTO – has been delivered to Congress. The plan involves 12 government agencies and encompasses transportation, energy, drinking and waste water, rural broadband, and veterans’ hospitals.  It is broad, ambitious and has ignited a necessary debate throughout the nation and in the Congress on infrastructure priorities and processes.  The Administration’s infrastructure plan is a 10-year investment to modernize our country’s infrastructure assets.  It’s a historical plan, comprehensive and separate from a reauthorization package.

The goal of the President’s proposal is to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment, which includes a minimum of $200 billion in direct federal funding.  The guiding principles are to: 1) use federal dollars as seed money to incentivize infrastructure investment; 2) provide for the needs of rural communities; and 3) streamline permitting and speed up project delivery; and, 4) reduce unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations.  In addition, a key element of the proposal is to empower decision making at the state and local level, who know best the infrastructure needs of their communities. Half of the new infrastructure funds would go towards incentivizing new state and local investments in infrastructure. A quarter of the Federal funds will be dedicated to addressing rural infrastructure needs, as prioritized by state and local leaders.  And as a former Secretary of Labor, I’m pleased to note this plan also has a workforce component, to help workers access the skills needed to build these new projects.

For more background on the plan, a publication entitled “The President's Initiative for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” will soon be available. 

This administration believes that empowering decision making at the state and local level is vitally important.  The federal government only owns about 10 percent of our country’s infrastructure, and contributes about 14 percent of total infrastructure spending.  The rest is owned and funded by state and local governments.  So, giving decision making power back to local communities makes a lot of sense.  

While Congress will be conducting hearings on infrastructure legislation this spring, the Administration began last year doing what we can at the regulatory level.  At DOT, we are implementing the President’s “One Federal Decision” initiative that was announced last August – to help speed up infrastructure projects and reduce costs.  We are working on a new process to handle the permitting of complicated, multi-agency projects to meet the President’s new expedited time line.  This means less paperwork, and more timely improvements that will better protect the environment and our quality of life.

The Department’s efforts to reduce regulatory costs and burdens that stymie infrastructure projects, limit the deployment of innovation and hinder job creation have already yielded significant results.  In the prior eight years, the Transportation Department alone increased the cost of regulations on our economy by over $3 billion a year.  In 2017, the Department decreased regulatory costs by $312 million and is on track to reduce the cost of regulations by more than $500 million in 2018. 

This dramatic turnaround can be explained by the fact that of the 158 DOT rulemakings in 2017, over half (82) were deregulatory.  Contrast that with the previous year, in which only 14% of the 132 rulemakings were deregulatory.

We have also aspired to make the Department’s grant programs more effective.  A number of you are particularly interested in updates on the TIGER and INFRA grant programs.   We received 450 applications, which were due in October, for the FY2017 TIGER grant program.  Derek is overseeing TIGER grants and those award announcements will be going out very soon.  The INFRA award announcements will follow afterward. 

The challenges of infrastructure planning – particularly how to pay for projects – are matters that state, local and federal officials have been grappling with throughout our nation’s history.  But in the last few decades overly burdensome regulations have made those challenges more difficult than is necessary. 

We are keeping this history in mind as we advance the Administration’s infrastructure plan and as we look toward the future of transportation.  As you well know, we are in the midst of a transportation transformation.  And where the regulatory aspects of these evolving technologies are concerned, the future has arrived. 

New technologies could transform the way we travel and connect with one another.  I’m referring to autonomous – or self-driving—vehicles, drones and other transportation innovations.  These new technologies have the potential to improve safety by addressing human error, which is a factor in 94 percent of traffic fatalities.  They also can help increase access to transportation for underserved communities—including the elderly and people with disabilities by giving them back their freedom. 

But as we all know, there are also concerns over these technologies, in regard to safety, security and privacy.  When last September we issued the AV 2.0 guidance – A Vision for Safety -- work was already underway on AV 3.0.  This update could be released as early as this summer, and will be revised as often as needed.   This new AV guidance will be multimodal, and include various surface transportation systems, such as mass transit, rail, and trucking.

Drone technology is revolutionizing the aviation industry. Companies are increasingly interested in adapting them for all kinds of commercial and humanitarian applications. After last year’s series of devastating hurricanes, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) worked overtime to process more than 317 waivers for drone use in the search, rescue, and recovery efforts. 

On January 10, 2018, a major milestone was reached with more than 1 million drones registered in the U.S.  And there has been a significant increase in the number of drone pilots, with more than 75,000 now certified to conduct commercial operations. That’s why the Department and the FAA have launched a new Drone Pilot program that will allow local communities to team with industry partners to safely conduct various drone operations and test new drone technologies. The Department has received nearly 150 completed applications and is expanding our selection of lead participants. The Department hopes to use the data, best practices and insights gained from the program to enable the next generation of drone operations.

The Department’s approach to innovation will be technology neutral—not top down, command and control. It’s important for policymakers to foster an environment for innovation to flourish, without compromising safety. 

Again, I’d like to thank Bud Wright and AASHTO members for staying engaged on these issues which are of such vital importance to everyone in our nation.  I see us as partners in a shared mission to help Americans have a better quality of life and to literally build a better future.