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Volpe Center Groundbreaking

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Volpe Center Groundbreaking
Cambridge, MA
Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Thank you for that introduction.

I am so delighted that Governor Baker is here.  Thank you, Governor.  We also welcome Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack, Rob Borden, Chief of Staff to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, representatives of several Members of Congress including James Cantwell, State Director for Senator Markey; Mayor McGovern and so many members of the Cambridge City Counsel; Dr. Maria Zuber, VP of Research and E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics at M.I.T., Volpe Director Anne Aylward.  I want to give a special recognition of Dr. Richard John, the who served the center so well and for so long.  And, Deputy Assistant Secretary Diana Furchgott-Roth is here for this special occasion as well. 

Today, this groundbreaking ceremony marks a historic development. The Department of Transportation, in coordination with the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget is participating in a real estate exchange transaction to provide a new state of the art facility for the Volpe Center and DOT regulatory and district offices.

This is the second time I have had the privilege of attending a historic event here.  When I was Deputy Secretary of Transportation, I attended the renaming ceremony of this Center from the National Transportation Systems Center to the John A. Volpe Transportation Systems Center.  John Volpe was the former governor of Massachusetts and the second U.S. Secretary of Transportation. I still remember that day and was so pleased to meet Secretary Volpe and his family on that special occasion.  The Center had already established itself as a valuable national resource.  It partnered with public and private organizations to assess the nation’s transportation needs, deploy cutting-edge transportation technologies, and inform decision and policy making.

The Volpe Center has continued enabling safety and innovation.   It has worked to reduce rail-grade crossing accidents, improve vehicle safety, and better manage the airspace.  It also conducted the first federal studies of automated fare collection systems.  If you use your smart phone to pay your transit fare, thank the Volpe Center experts who were thinking ahead back in the 1970s. They helped create and advance a vision for multimodal payment systems. 

The Volpe Center continues to provide important contributions to our national transportation system.  Especially now, when we have entered a historic period of transportation innovation that promises to boost economic growth and improve quality of life.  These innovations are occurring in all modes of transportation, including roads, rail, maritime, and aerospace.

Autonomous vehicles, for example, have the potential to improve traffic safety and increase mobility, particularly for the elderly and those with disabilities.  Volpe has been playing an important role in drafting our most recent guidance for autonomous vehicle developers: Automated Driving Systems 2.0, and Automated Vehicles 3.0. These are two of the most frequently viewed policy documents posted on the DOT website.  The team is already at work on the new Comprehensive Plan for Automated Vehicles. 

 Volpe is also playing a role in advancing aviation, which is seeing many innovations, including unmanned aircraft systems, or drones.

Nearly 1.5 million drones have been registered with the FAA.  Over 400,000 of these drones are flown for commercial purposes.  These are flown by over 150,000 certificated remote pilots, a new job category.  This is triple the number in 2017.  The FAA estimates that the number of certificated drone pilots may exceed instrument-rated manned pilots by 2023.

New uses are being found for drones: including surveying, search and rescue, package delivery, and carrying passengers.  The Department is helping to chart a course for the safe integration of these innovations into our national airspace.  The three most recent initiatives are allowing the testing of drones in a variety of environments under restricted conditions; helping advance drone airspace management, and developing and implementing a framework for remote drone ID, which has security implications.

Volpe engineers and analysts have worked with its partners to develop a system that is contributing to safer drone operations.  The Ground-Based Detect and Avoid system uses existing air traffic data from multiple sources to provide drone operators a real-time display of aircraft in the surrounding airspace. By enabling drone pilots to detect and avoid other aircraft, this system has allowed for safer near-term integration of drones into the National Airspace System.

Another major development involves commercial space.  The Volpe Center has been supporting FAA’s efforts to safely and efficiently integrate space vehicles in to the national airspace.  Thanks to reusable rockets and other innovations, America has regained first place in commercial space launches for the first time in 14 years.  To keep pace, the Department is overhauling outdated and cumbersome commercial space licensing procedures, and re-organizing the Office of Commercial Space Transportation.  It has also created our nation’s first Office of Spaceports.

All these innovations are exciting, but they can be disruptive.  This is where Volpe’s contribution plays an important role.   Volpe’s data and analysis provides trustworthy information that helps us distinguish between “High” and “Hype” performance innovations.  Volpe’s data helps build confidence among stakeholders, including the public whose acceptance is critical to the realizing the potential of ground-breaking innovations.

One of my first official acts after being confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Transportation was to visit the Volpe Center.  I toured your state-of-the-art rail, car, and airplane simulators.  I also visited your global maritime domain awareness laboratory, the air traffic management center, and your human factors laboratory.  It was so interesting and I learned so much!  Today, as the Volpe Center heads into its 50th year of service, we celebrate past accomplishments and look forward to new milestones. This new state-of-the-art facility will help the Volpe Center and its multidisciplinary team build up on its rich legacy of research and analysis that is so critical to America’s transportation future. 

Thank you for inviting me to take part in this important new milestone, and for everything you are doing to strengthen our country’s critical transportation systems.