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Remarks at the Kentucky Local Issues Conference

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Kentucky Local Issues Conference
Louisville, KY
August 30, 2019

Thank you, Governor.  It’s great to be home!   Thank you for your leadership of Kentucky.  I know you work very hard for our Commonwealth and you speak often with this Administration, the Cabinet and other senior officials to advocate for our Commonwealth.   We’ve talked about your focus on economic development so more employers will come to Kentucky and create more jobs.  You’ve also discussed with us your focus on making state government more efficient and responsive to Kentuckians and ensure that taxpayer dollars are used wisely and effectively to maximize services and programs.  We also want to thank the First Lady for her service to our Commonwealth.  

Let me acknowledge: 

  • The Governor’s cabinet:

Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Secretary, Don Parkinson

Commissioner of the Department for Local Government, Sandy Dunahoo.

  • Field staff for U.S. Congressmen Hal Rogers and James Comer and Leader McConnell;
  • The Honorable Hilda Legg, State Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development;
  • Brandon Brummett, Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District Outreach Coordinator; and,
  • Phil Paradice and Bertha Partin from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

And, all the distinguished State Legislators, county executive judges and local officials with us today. 

And I also want to take this opportunity to introduce the new Division Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration’s Kentucky Division, Todd Jeter. Previously, Todd served as the Assistant Division Administrator for the Louisiana Division. He was instrumental in providing innovative finance and project delivery guidance, including oversight of Louisiana's first ever public-private partnership. Please reach out to him – he’s here to help.   

This is a good time for our country and Kentucky.  The nation’s economy is strong, thanks to the President’s pro-growth economic and regulatory agenda.

  • The last Administration thought that the economy was stalled and the new norm was that GDP growth would never surpass 2% again.  Well, 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.

In this Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s efforts are guided by three priorities.

The first is: safety, which is always #1.

The second priority, as the President mentioned, is rebuilding and refurbishing our country’s infrastructure. This is vital to our country’s productivity, economic vitality and quality of life for everyone.

The third priority at the Department is preparing for the future – by engaging with emerging transportation technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy, without hampering innovation.

Last year, the Department distributed about $65 billion to help state and local governments address their infrastructure needs.

Under this Administration, the needs of rural America are no longer overlooked.  As a proud Kentuckian, I always say that rural America is not looking for a handout – we just want our fair share and an equitable process in the distribution of federal resources. 

Did you know that about 19 percent of Americans live in rural areas? And, about one-third of the total vehicle miles traveled in 2017 were in rural areas. Yet, rural areas accounted for 46 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2017. So, from a safety point of view, it is good policy to pay attention to the infrastructure needs of rural America.

This Administration also believes that it is important to empower decision-making at the state and local level.  You know best the needs of your community.  The federal government should be your partners; we want to be helpful in achieving your community goals.  Deploying federal transportation funds as seed money to incentivize infrastructure investment is a proven way to leverage federal dollars.  Projects are evaluated according to many criteria, including their potential to improve safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, environmental protection and state of good repair.  The U.S. Department of Transportation is applying these and other principles to grant programs, including INFRA and BUILD grant programs which funds major investments in state and local road, rail, transit, and port projects. 

We are in a historic period of transportation innovation, including drones, automated driving systems, self-driving vehicles, supersonic aircraft, and re-usable commercial space rockets.  The Administration’s approach is to not to be top-down, command and control because we don’t believe that the government knows best.  Or, that the government is best at deciding winners and losers.  It is best to let the consumers decide. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation also seeks to better advance its mission through common sense regulatory reforms, resulting in smarter regulations. 

On August 14, 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation published a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking public comment on changes to hours of service rules for commercial drivers, a big issue in rural America. This proposed rule seeks to enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility, while maintaining the safety limits on driving time.  

There are a number of sample projects here in Kentucky that align with these priorities.  First, let me say that the Department’s evaluation process, which is well known, originates with dedicated career staff carefully and thoroughly reviewing applications before senior review teams are involved.  This evaluation takes thousands of hours across the Department’s discretionary grant programs. Similarly, a team of career staff handles cost-benefit and project readiness review. Discretionary grant programs are competitive and based on merit and how well the projects align with selection criteria.

On August 24, 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced an investment to increase safety and make needed renovations at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Another investment, provided through the INFRA program, will help replace two diamond interchanges along Interstate 71 and Interstate 75. As we know, Northern Kentucky is one of our nation’s leading logistics hubs. In fact, some refer to this region as the “Silicon Valley” of logistics.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems - or drones - are a rapidly developing new technology. There are nearly 1.5 million registered drones in the U.S. – of which almost 400,000 are registered for commercial use. And, there are more than 147,000 Certified Remote Pilots – a new job category that didn’t exist 5 years ago, and which nearly triple the number in 2017.

We have examples here in Kentucky of drones being flown to conduct precision agriculture, assist law enforcement, deliver medical supplies, and conduct search and rescue operations.  On March 30th, 2019, I joined First Responders from across our state at the Search and Rescue Drones Conference, held at Hazard Community and Technical College.   

At the conference, I told of Georgetown police, following FAA guidelines, purchased a drone with night vision and thermal imaging to assist with law enforcement activities. Later, when a train derailed, that same drone allowed emergency response teams to assess the wreckage and determine, before personnel entered the site, whether any of the tank cars were leaking bio-hazardous material.

Hazard is also home to the USA Drone Port - a world class center for unmanned aircraft systems research, development, and training. Additionally, the State Fire Rescue Training Center at Morehead has started its own drone flight school!  It’s really exciting what is happening in our Commonwealth.  These organizations are doing a wonderful job.  

This Administration is also helping the Commonwealth’s urban areas, including in the areas of innovation and mobility.   

The Administration announced an investment to help transform the Dixie Highway Corridor Project.  This investment will help provide better, faster transit and improved traffic flow for Louisville's commuters. And, the Administration also announced an investment in Lexington’s LexTran system to purchase new battery electric buses.

As you’ve heard several times now, this Administration wants to partner with states to build, modernize and maintain the infrastructure that best fits the needs of your communities.  With improved transportation infrastructure in place, communities can help build a better quality of life, increase safety, move people and freight faster and create more jobs and opportunities. 

Thank you again, Governor Bevin, for hosting this Conference and keeping us informed on issues of concern to all of us.    

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Updated: Friday, August 30, 2019
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