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Remarks at Americas Transportation Summit

Friday, June 28, 2019

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Americas Transportation Summit
Inter-American Development Bank
Washington, DC
Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thank you, President Moreno.  I want to express my appreciation to the Inter-American Development Bank for sponsoring this important summit.  To all the Ministers and Vice Ministers and leaders from the public and private sectors gathered here today: it is a pleasure to be with you.  

It is unquestionable that, over the last two years, there has been profound transformation across Latin America.  We have seen important steps toward more pro-market policies.  And since the earliest days of this administration, President Trump and Vice President Pence have worked with our partners in the region to build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous Western Hemisphere. 

But what brings us here today is the theme of this Summit:  Americas Transportation: A path toward competitive, safe and secure transportation.  This gathering and its agenda demonstrate a visionary leadership that recognizes the need to encourage innovation.  And to utilize technologies to help advance improvements in transportation. 

The importance of transportation to the well-being and prosperity of all nations is reflected in the list of active projects receiving IDB loans.  83 of the IDB’s 573 active projects are for “transport” – that is the most of any category!  Under the BUILD Act, which created the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, we have raised the total investment limitation to $60 billion.  This is more than double our current $29 billion investment cap.  This development financing capacity will help our partners build the infrastructure they need to grow.  The Latin America region and the transportation sector are likely to see a large share of this financing.

Throughout the history of the United States, transportation innovation and infrastructure expansion have propelled economic growth, created new jobs and improved quality of life.  Another consistent theme in our nation’s transportation history is that finding ways to finance all the infrastructure the nation needs and wants, is often the toughest obstacle.  That was a challenge at our nation’s founding nearly 250 years ago and remains so today.  Local, state and federal policymakers continue to explore public and private partnership financing options to fund needed projects. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s top priority is safety.  It is always #1.  Second, we need to address the deteriorating infrastructure in our nation.  This is vital to our country’s productivity, economic vitality and quality of life.  Third, we need to prepare for the future by engaging with new and emerging transportation technologies.  We must address legitimate public concerns about safety, privacy, and security, while not hampering innovation. 

Let me mention some key areas of focus.

First, automated vehicles.  AV technology holds great promise for increasing safety, as well as mobility for the elderly and people with disabilities.  The Department’s approach to regulating automated vehicles stresses transparency, collaboration and cooperation with all stakeholders, including the public as well as state and local governments.  In the U.S., all motor vehicles, including automated vehicles, are subject to our existing safety standards. Going forward with AVs, a key goal is to avoid a patchwork of differing regulatory requirements at the state level, while ensuring that legitimate concerns about safety, security and privacy are addressed. 

Unmanned Aircraft Systems-- or drones-- are another rapidly developing new technology.  Their potential to save lives by doing jobs that would otherwise put people at risk, as well as to deliver goods and services more efficiently, is especially noteworthy.   The Department’s robust UAS agenda includes new rulemakings to:

•           permit drones to fly at night and over people under certain conditions;

•           identify the safety and security threats posed by drones, as well as how to mitigate them; and,

•           address the issue of remote identification. 

In addition, the Department has selected 9 pilot projects to test the safe operation of drones under a variety of novel conditions in communities across the United States.

As a guiding principle, the Department is tech neutral – not top-down, command and control. That means we are not in the business of picking technology winners and losers. Instead, the Department’s approach is to enable the safe testing and deployment of a wide variety of new technologies, so communities and individuals can choose what best addresses their needs. 

The Department is also focused on rebuilding and refurbishing America’s infrastructure.  Last year, the Department distributed about $65 billion to help state and local governments address their infrastructure needs. This Administration is especially concerned with the infrastructure needs of America’s rural communities.  For example, in awarding the Department’s BUILD grants, we give special consideration to projects that emphasize improved access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation for rural communities.  The Department is also working hard to streamline infrastructure project permitting, and to reduce unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations. These measures will help cut costs and deliver infrastructure in a timelier manner. 

These are just a few examples of the Department’s activities.  And, we are not alone in this journey.  Many of you are working on similar issues.  There is much to be gained from summits such as this one where we can exchange information and cooperate either on a multilateral or bilateral basis. 

For example, in November 2018, on the margins of the G20 Summit, we concluded a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement with Argentina.   And, just yesterday, Minister Dietrich and I signed a modernized and more liberalized air services agreement.  The agreement will create unrestricted capacity and additional commercial opportunities for passenger airlines. This will increase economic opportunities and investments for both countries and the region.

This afternoon, I look forward to renewing our transportation cooperation with Minister Freitas of Brazil.  We will be signing a modernized memorandum of cooperation that will formalize our exchanges in areas such as safety, automation, and infrastructure financing. 

The United States looks forward to continuing to work with all its partners in the region to exchange information and best practices, so that safer and better transportation technologies and systems can be deployed for the benefit of all.

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