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Transportation Investment and Economic Mobility

Transportation Investment and Economic Mobility

With the U.S. population projected to grow by 90 million people over the next 30 years, and strong evidence that access to affordable transportation plays a significant role in social and economic mobility, we must face this challenge head on. Even in a difficult fiscal and political climate.

But, let's remember one of the key lessons in American history: challenging times can present opportunities to find new allies, a fresh vision, and creative, new approaches to long-standing problems . I am proud to say that this Department is pressing forward in a number of exciting and transformative policy areas. And yesterday, at the launch of Transportation For America's (T4A) new alliance to help revitalize our nation's investment in transportation, I highlighted one of my favorites --Ladders of Opportunity. 

Transportation for America logo

As a former mayor, Transportation Secretary Foxx is especially focused on transportation investments and policies that connect people safely to jobs, education, and health care; that grow local economies and the U.S. economy; and that improve quality of life.

Like T4A, Secretary Foxx is passionate about equity and access for all Americans and about ensuring that our transportation investments help create good-paying jobs for those who need them most.  He knows what recent studies have documented – access to affordable transportation is a key factor in determining social mobility and helping people lift themselves out of poverty and into the middle class.

The Location Affordability Portal we launched with HUD last week shows that the cost of commuting is a significant part of family budgets in many parts of the country.

With the last round of our TIGER grant program, we particularly highlighted “Ladders” projects – many of them in local communities – such as the Kansas City Streetcar, the Atlanta Beltline and the El Paso Northgate Transfer Center.  These projects – which would be so difficult to fund under our traditional formulas – are going to help transform those cities, and we are excited to be their partners.

If we can get this right and continue to help families get home from work faster and without breaking their budgets, we can change American transportation policy and start planning and building projects that can better respond to the needs and priorities of our citizens and their communities.

Unfortunately, the question of, "How do we get it right?" means that we have to have a conversation about the very sensitive topic of funding.  There's been a profound debate on this, and T4A and other engaged stakeholders have put together proposals. I can assure you that, at DOT, we are also focused on the looming funding crisis for surface transportation.

Meanwhile, the demands on our nation’s transportation infrastructure will only increase as our population increases and we seek to grow our economy. As Secretary Foxx has written here, our most congested metropolitan areas are projected to grow more congested, and other areas are projected to join them.

Ultimately, we will need to find political consensus on how to sustain transportation funding over the long term in this time of severe budgetary challenges.  It will not be easy, but I know that advocates like T4A and others can help break the logjam.

Our responsibility is plain: We owe it to future generations of Americans to provide them with a transportation system as remarkable and productive as the one our parents and grandparents built for us. And, as Secretary Foxx wrote on this blog last week, "We can only accomplish this great, national project if we accomplish it together."

Polly Trottenberg is the U.S. Transportation Undersecretary for Policy.

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