Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Georgia Chamber of Commerce
August 13, 2019
Thank you, Senator Perdue.
I would also like to acknowledge Congressman Austin Scott, Congressman Drew Ferguson, Congressman Buddy Carter, Congressman Rick Allen, Congressman Sanford Bishop, and Congressman Jody Hice.
And also: Attorney General Chris Carr, Commissioner of Transportation Russell McMurry and the Georgia State Transportation Board, Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black and Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler. And other distinguished guests.
Since this is the Chamber of Commerce, let’s start off with the best news: the economy is doing great!
• The U.S. economy grew 2.8% in the first half of 2019;
• The national unemployment rate of 3.7% is about the lowest in 50 years; and
• Businesses have added more than 6 million jobs since the 2016 election.
Combine pro-growth policies and investments with American ingenuity and initiative and this is the kind of strong economy that results.
Cutting taxes lets families keep more of their hard-earned income. This is extremely important to family-owned and other small businesses, which employ 60% of all workers in our country.
Reducing unnecessary burdens that hamper investment and job creation helps small businesses, which cannot afford to hire lawyers and accountants to comply with government paperwork burdens. It also helps larger businesses as well as state and local government.
This was highlighted after a fire brought down a bridge on busy I-85 in 2017. The Department fast-tracked approvals and cut red tape to help Commissioner McMurry and his team at Georgia Department of Transportation. As a result, the bridge was replaced in only 43 days. As President Trump loves to hear: ahead of schedule and below budget!
Using lessons learned in that effort, the Department has been modifying overly burdensome regulations to make it easier to build or repair infrastructure and to encourage a climate of growth.
The Department is reducing costs, promoting innovation, and making it easier to build or repair needed infrastructure without compromising safety or the environment.
The Administration’s “One Federal Decision” initiative has also fostered this climate for growth. It is streamlining the permitting process, providing better coordination between agencies, helping prevent cost overruns, and holding the lead agency accountable for meeting deadlines.
The Department has also provided substantial funding for infrastructure. Last year, it distributed about $65 billion to help state and local governments address infrastructure needs. Georgia’s share of INFRA grant program funding for FY18 and FY19 totaled more than $189 million. The state received more than $24 million in BUILD grants for FY18.
The Department has acted to ensure that historically neglected rural areas get proper consideration. Prior to this Administration, only 21% of BUILD funding was awarded to rural areas. Since 2017, special consideration has been given to projects that emphasize improved access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation for rural communities. As a result, 70% of the FY2018 BUILD grants went to rural areas.
Our country’s aviation infrastructure is also vital to local, state and national economic health. Georgia has the busiest airport in the world, generating nearly $35 billion in economic activity and 63,000 jobs. Nationwide, aviation infrastructure supports an industry that generates $1.6 trillion in economic activity – and nearly 11 million jobs.
And let me mention the Savannah Harbor Expansion project. The state’s – in fact the entire nation’s – economic success is reflected in the record levels of container volume passing through this vital port. It is a critical, multi-modal access point to global markets. I know the Georgia congressional delegation and multiple governors have worked very hard over many years to have the channel deepened to better accommodate much larger post-Panamax ships.
In addition to infrastructure, the Department is also helping foster a climate of growth by enabling the exciting wave of innovation sweeping through transportation. The Department’s approach is to keep the government out of picking winners and losers—it will let customers decide. It has established programs that allow developers to safely test and refine their systems. Since many of these new technologies involve more than one traditional mode of transportation, the Department set up the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology or NETT Council to coordinate responses to overlapping technologies.
Here are some of the new innovations:
New, quieter supersonic aircraft.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems - or drones. Drones are being flown to conduct disaster management, search and rescue operations, precision agriculture, and law enforcement. Other uses, including carrying passengers, are being planned. There are more than 1.4 million registered drones in the U.S. and more than 144,000 FAA-registered drone operators – triple the number in 2017.
Reusable rockets are propelling commercial space to new levels. Six years ago, the U.S. was third behind Russia and China in commercial space launches. Today, the U.S. is Number One.
Other transportation innovations include clean-burning Natural Gas-powered ships, zero emission buses, and faster railways.
America has always been defined by innovation and change.
Soon after our nation’s founding, a century-long territorial and economic expansion was enabled by transformative technologies – notably railroads and the steam engine. Those technological revolutions -- and later the combustion engine, aviation, motor vehicles and space – shaped our nation. Transportation innovation throughout our history propelled economic growth, increased mobility, built communities and raised the quality of life for everyone.
Innovation, in transportation and other arenas, is still driving growth and still gives us hope for a better future.
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