Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

The latest general information on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is available on For USDOT specific COVID-19 resources, please visit our page.

White House Women Municipal Leaders Conference

Friday, December 13, 2019

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
White House Women Municipal Leaders Conference
Washington, DC
Thursday, December 12, 2019

Thank you, Doug for that introduction.

It is wonderful to see so many women leaders here.  Municipal government is democracy on the front lines where it directly touches peoples’ lives.  Trash collection, schools, fire-fighting, police, and transportation fall under local government.

So, when taxpayers get irate about potholes or late trash pick-up, they don’t dial Washington, D.C.  They call their local officials.  In other words, they call you and complain.  I salute you for getting involved in the hard work of strengthening and improving your communities.  It is not an easy job, but it is necessary.  It is good to see so many women leaders providing strong local leadership!

One of the biggest challenges faced by local governments is creating an environment conducive to economic growth and job creation.  A strong economy helps build strong communities.

That’s why from the very first day, this President has economic growth and jobs a top priority.   

The results have been outstanding.   This Administration’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is fueling one of the largest economic expansions in our Nation’s history.   The jobs numbers that came out last Friday were great.

•        Economic growth remains robust at a 2.1 percent annual rate in the third quarter of 2019.

•        7 million net new jobs have been created since the 2016 election. 

•        In November, the unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent – matching the lowest unemployment rate in over 50 years. 

•        The unemployment rate for African Americans and Hispanic Americans have hit record lows.

•        National average hourly earnings grew by 3.1% over the past 12 months, putting more money into the pockets of workers and their families.

  • 2.5 million Americans have been lifted out of poverty.

Another factor contributing to job growth and strong economic performance has been the Administration’s regulatory reform program. The Department of Transportation is rated number one in the cabinet in reducing unnecessary, duplicative, and overly burdensome regulations and this helps us to focus on safety.

In the previous Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation alone imposed about $2-3 billion in new annualized regulatory costs each year.  This heavy level of regulations was one of the reasons the economy was in the doldrums.    In February 2017, the Administration signed an Executive Order requiring two regulations to be withdrawn for every single new regulation. 

The Department of Transportation has far exceeded that goal, and eliminated more than 11 unnecessary regulations for every new regulation. As a result, it has reduced regulatory costs by a net of $3.7 billion.  The Department accomplished this while ensuring that regulations necessary for safety are in place.

The Department is also cutting red tape that slows down infrastructure projects.  It is implementing common sense reforms to allow for the simultaneous, rather than sequential, review of permits by different modes and agencies.   While it may sound inconsequential and bureaucratic, permitting reform can make a real difference. Today it takes an average of 16 years to build a new road; sometimes 18 years to build a new highway or a new bridge.  Permitting reform will reduce that delay.

The Department is working with your communities to help improve the transportation system, and is guided by three priorities:

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

The second priority is rebuilding and refurbishing our country’s critical infrastructure.

Over the past three years, the Department distributed nearly $200 billion dollars to help state and local governments address infrastructure needs – from roads and bridges to aviation, rail and transit.  Some of these resources are made available through competitive grants.  INFRA and BUILD grants fund surface transportation projects.  Airport Improvement Program grants help upgrade aviation infrastructure.   The Maritime Administration provides small shipyard grants and other assistance.  Grants provided through the Federal Transit Administration help local transit systems upgrade facilities or bus fleets.   And other funds are available for rail and multimodal systems.

This Administration seeks to empower state and local decision-making and encourages cooperation and information sharing between the private sector and state, local, and national government officials.

We have also undertaken another initiative under this Administration’s guidance, that may affect your applications.  The U.S. Department of Transportation is ensuring that rural areas, which were historically neglected, get proper consideration. I always say that rural America is not looking for a handout – it just wants fairness and equity.

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 a disproportionate 46 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2017. So, to promote safety – as well as fairness – we need to pay attention to rural America.

Prior to this Administration, only 21 percent 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 percent of the FY2018 BUILD grants went to rural areas.  There was some concern that rural America got too much and recent legislation capped the rural component at 50 percent.  Thankfully, the definition of what is “rural” was broadened to include areas with less than 200,000 population.  Previously, the threshold was 50,000.

On October 8, 2019, at the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, I announced the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative to better support the Nation’s critical rural transportation infrastructure.  This USDOT effort will help rural communities access federal transportation grant programs.  It will provide user-friendly information to these communities to assist in applying for discretionary grants.  It will improve sharing of rural data and analysis to achieve national transportation infrastructure goals.  The ROUTES Initiative will involve not just highway infrastructure, but airports and transit, as well.  The U.S. Department of Transportation’s formed a ROUTES Council to coordinate efforts.

These efforts to improve transportation infrastructure help achieve the Department’s third priority - to prepare for the transportation system of the future.  The Department seeks to engage with emerging technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy, without hampering innovation.

Transportation innovation is making significant progress in our country.

For example, six years ago, the U.S. was third behind Russia and China in commercial space launches.  Today, the U.S. is Number One—thanks to private sector developments such as re-usable rockets, air-launch systems, and other innovations. The global space economy’s value is approaching $400 billion annually, and is expected to grow.

To support this innovation, the Department is overhauling outdated and cumbersome commercial space licensing regulations and launch procedures, and established the Office of Spaceports to license commercial spaceports. 

And drones—or unmanned aircraft systems—are another rapidly emerging new technology.  Nearly 1.5 million drones have been registered with the FAA.  These are flown by more than 150,000 certificated remote pilots, a new job category.  This is triple the number in 2017. 

Other innovations being developed include autonomous vehicles, Hyperloop and supersonic civilian aircraft.

From rural roads to outer space, our country is on the move.  The U.S. Department of Transportation wants to partner with you to build, modernize and maintain the infrastructure you think best suits 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.

It has been great to share some of the ways the Department is working with you to ensure that our transportation system and infrastructure will be safe, reliable and ready for the future.