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Foxx: Transportation Facing a 'Tsunami' of Change; Now's the Time to Rethink Challenges, Opportunities
BY ANTHONY R. FOXX
U.S. Secretary of Transportation
Foxx recently kicked off “The Future of Transportation,” the speaker series conducted by Volpe, the National Transportation Systems Center. Foxx’s remarks focused on major changes and trends influencing transportation and challenged industry leaders and policymakers to consider better ways to integrate transportation and technology in communities to “close the opportunity gap.” His comments follow.
I really want you to park the cool stuff for a second—the driverless cars, the drones, the Next Gen, the ITS. Let’s park that for a second and let’s think about just who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish as people.
And before we really get deeply into a conversation about innovation, I think it is very important for us to think about these fundamental questions of what we’re trying to achieve, what objective we have in mind. Clearly, there are technologies as vast as there are numbers of human beings, but also clearly, technology exists to solve a problem. And if we’re unclear about the problem we’re trying to solve, we’ll never solve it.
Rethinking Big Questions
We’re facing a tsunami of change in transportation. We have population growth—70 million more people over the next 30 years—we have changes regarding where those people are coalescing. Many of them are coalescing around our urban centers in the country; many of them are moving to the South and to the West, places that historically have been more dependent upon the automobile. That inheres tremendous rethinking of how we deliver transportation.
What Beyond Traffic 2045 [the DOT report that frames the future of the U.S. transportation system] has done this: It has started to put right in front of us the big questions we need to ask about transportation long-term.
It’s essentially calling our country to start making decisions about these things so—as we integrate technology, as we build at higher levels of resiliency, as we determine how to move goods better, smarter, cheaper, as we decide how to integrate this swelling population in tighter and tighter spaces—we’re being intentional about how we build.
This is a really important time in the history of transportation because we are ending the useful life of a lot of infrastructure. We just got a long-term surface transportation bill; it’s not everything we wanted, but it’s more than we had, and it’s a really good time—if we’re going to rethink [these issues]—it’s a really good time to do it.
Closing Opportunity Gaps
As we did this study, we got feedback from lots of people, and one thing that became crystal clear was we’d left out a big topic—the rising opportunity gaps in America.
Now, you may say, “Gosh, I can understand that there are health disparities between the rich and poor. That’s [the Department of] Health and Human Services. Or there may be challenges with educating our most challenged population, but isn’t that Department of Education? And yes, we recognize there are housing issues in almost every community across our country, but that’s really [the Department of] Housing and Urban Development.”
But we have never, in my opinion, as a transportation community, owned our role in closing those opportunity gaps. That’s an area I think is hugely worthy of research, best practices and changes in practice at the ground level. If we’re going to meet the challenges of the future, part of what we have to do as a transportation community is develop a “better ear.” And we’re working to do that.
Bringing People Together
One of the things we’re going to do this fall is [conduct] a Citizens Academy—essentially, a one-on-one on the transportation project process. We’re going to bring people from all over the country to the headquarters at DOT and start from A and work our way to Z and help them understand how they can impact the process.
Hopefully, the curriculum we establish is flexible enough to be used by all the different modes, and hopefully some of our state partners and other stakeholders out there will take that curriculum and bring it out to the country.
We can build anything, and we’ve built great stuff in this country. What we’re building, who we’re building it for and why we’re building it is always where the debate is, and if we endeavor to have a country that is connected, where everybody, no matter what zip code they come from, has a shot at the American dream, then we’ve got to come to grips with the fact that there was infrastructure that was built in the past that really ripped the heart out of some communities.
As we build anew and as we repair old [infrastructure], thinking about this now is really, really important.
U.S. DOT’s Volpe Center collaborates on projects and initiatives to strengthen the U.S. transportation system. Find details here.
“Commentary” features points of view from various sources to enhance readers’ broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.