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American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2020 Washington Briefing

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 
2020 Washington Briefing 
Washington, DC
Wednesday, February 26, 2020 

Thank you, Patrick.  I am joined today by U.S. Department of Transportation senior leadership:

  • FHWA Administrator Nicole Nason
  • FTA Acting Administrator Jane Williams
  • FHWA Deputy Administrator Mala Parker
  • FHWA Executive Director Tom Everett

This makes me 4-for-4 on participating in AASHTO’s Washington Briefings during this Administration.  It is important that the U.S. Department of Transportation and all the state DOTs have a close working relationship and continual discussions and collaborations.  AASHTO provides a great forum for this and is an excellent resource for all of us.  So it is a pleasure to be here with you, once again. 

As the President said in his State of the Union address, infrastructure remains a priority of this Administration.  The President’s FY2021 Budget is requesting $1 trillion to rebuild, restore and renew our Nation’s infrastructure.  This request includes two parts.  First, $190 billion is requested for a broad range of infrastructure investment touching on several sectors.  In addition, the President’s budget envisions a 10-year surface transportation proposal that will provide an historic $810 billion for surface transportation.  It would provide long-term stable and predictable investments to help ensure that America has a safer, more reliable, and more efficient transportation system.

For FY2021, the President’s budget request proposes a total of $89 billion to support transportation programs -- a 2% increase of the entire budget over the FY 2020 Appropriations Act. This represents the largest request for Transportation in our Nation’s history. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation continues to press ahead with substantial investments in infrastructure.  On February 19, the Department announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity to apply for $1 billion in FY2020 discretionary grant funding through the BUILD program.  These BUILD grants – which are for projects that will have a significant local or regional impact -- will upgrade infrastructure across America.  To provide technical assistance to prospective applicants, the Department is hosting a series of webinars. The deadline to submit an application is May 18, 2020.

The Department intends to award 50 percent of BUILD funding to projects located in rural areas.  Rural America has long been neglected in infrastructure funding. This commitment to America’s rural communities is consistent with the Department’s ROUTES initiative – which I announced on October 8, 2019 at AASHTO’s Annual Meeting.

As you well know, rural infrastructure is not just for the benefit of rural residents.  44% of passenger vehicle traffic in rural areas is urban residents travelling.  So it should concern everyone that the fatality rate on rural roads is twice that on urban roads.  Only 19% of Americans live in rural areas, yet 46% of the Nation’s highway fatalities occur there.

Rural transportation networks – which bring manufactured products, agriculture and other commodities to markets -- are vital to our Nation’s economy and all Americans’ quality of life.  Nearly half of all truck vehicle miles travelled occur on rural roads.  And two-thirds of rail freight originates in rural areas.     

Also just last week, on February 19th, the Department announced $520.5 million in Airport Improvement Grants to 287 airports in 41 states. With these grants, this Administration will have invested $11.4 billion to more than two thousand airports across the United States for safety and infrastructure improvements. 

Maritime ports are another vital component of America’s transportation network.  On February 14, the Department announced more than $280 million in discretionary grant funding through the new Port Infrastructure Development Program.  This funding is designed to improve port facilities at or near coastal seaports.  Of the 15 projects that were awarded grants, six are located in Opportunity Zones, an Administration initiative to revitalize economically distressed communities using private investments.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, and you - our state partners - are continually working on ways to make transportation safer, more accessible, and better for everyone.  Safety innovations and initiatives have reduced annual traffic fatalities by 33 percent since 1972.  That achievement occurred while vehicles miles traveled increased 156 percent.  The fatality rate in 1972 was nearly four times higher than it is today. 

Further improving traffic safety remains our greatest, ongoing transportation challenge.  It is encouraging that 2018 marked the second consecutive year of declining crash fatalities.  Initial data for the first three-quarters of 2019 indicate another yearly decline.  Progress is being made.  Yet, 36,560 people were killed during 2018 in traffic crashes on America’s roads.  Most of those tragedies were preventable.  So there is still a lot to do to further improve safety for all road users.  

Two categories of road users, pedestrians and bicyclists, registered increased fatalities in 2018.  The Department will be hosting on April 7, 2020 a Pedestrian Safety Summit to address the rise in pedestrian fatalities and provide a forum for attendees to identify best practices and solutions to better protect pedestrians.  Attendees will identify the leading factors impacting the rise in pedestrian fatalities, solutions and contribute to finalizing a National Action Plan on pedestrian safety. 

Among the innovative technologies advancing traffic safety are vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.  Not so long ago, the notion of vehicle-to-everything communication – or “V2X” -- seemed fanciful and futuristic.  On January 15, I announced a new pilot program to deploy V2X around the country to help prevent accidents involving First Responders.  Every year there are about 46,000 crashes, 17,000 injuries and 150 fatalities involving emergency response vehicles.

This new initiative—the First Responder Safety Technology Pilot Program-- will provide up to $38 million to equip emergency response vehicles, transit vehicles and related infrastructure, including traffic signals and highway-rail-grade crossings, with V2X technology.  These systems will use the 5.9 Gigahertz “Safety Band” of spectrum currently allocated for use in transportation systems.  We know this issue is important to you.  We believe it is important to retain bandwidth for this purpose and have advocated that the FCC do so.    

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s commitment to safety includes an all-out, high-profile effort to make the transportation sector a more effective force against human trafficking.  On January 29, the Department hosted the “Put the Brakes on Human Trafficking” summit.  America’s roadways, railways, airways, and waterways are being used to facilitate this modern form of slavery.  So the transportation sector is in a unique position to help save victims of human trafficking from unimaginable abuse, suffering and despair.  And to assist law enforcement in apprehending the perpetrators.

Hundreds of transportation leaders convened at the Department headquarters to take a public stand against human trafficking.  Over 370 have now signed the Department’s  “Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking” pledge.  Corporations, labor, governmental and non-governmental organizations in every mode of transportation are stepping up.  They have committed to training over one million employees to help fight human trafficking.  Multiple initiatives are underway to increase awareness of human trafficking and equip transportation industry employees and the public with strategies to fight it.

Human trafficking occurs all over this country.  So we are enlisting as many allies as we can to bring together the best efforts, the best strategies, and necessary resources to the battle against human trafficking.  At the January 29 summit, I set a goal that the Department would seek 100 additional pledges in the next 100 days.  I am delighted to announce today that we surpassed that goal in just 28 days!  But we’re not letting up!

All but a couple of the State DOTs have now signed the pledge.

If your organization has not already signed the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking pledge and is interested in doing so, please talk with one of the Department’s officials here today or contact the Department at:

Thanks again for all the great work you’re doing.  We are your partners to help you achieve the transportation goals of your states and local communities.  Your success is our definition of success. 

Thank you.

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