The Department of Transportation Turns 50

By Eric G Braun, Senior Writer, USRW

Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao celebrated the Department of Transportation’s 50th anniversary on March 29, 2017. The following are selected remarks by Chao in her speech on the occasion.

"It is so exciting to celebrate the 50th birthday of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and to preview the exciting new trends transforming the transportation system today.

When I first came to the Department so many years ago, smart phones and drones were part of the Star-Trek universe.

Well, they’re not science fiction anymore!

Today, we are seeing a technological revolution that will change the way we work, live, travel, and conduct commerce.   And this Department has an unprecedented opportunity to help shape that future for our country.

In the 50 years since the Department first opened its doors on April 1, 1967, we have seen an amazing transformation of our country’s infrastructure.

The national highway system initiated in the 1950’s has been completed.

Great airports were built.

Mass transit became an urban staple.

Freight railroads have become an attractive industry again.

Our country’s ports became international, intermodal hubs.

This infrastructure has been the backbone of our country’s economy for the past 50 years, strengthening competitiveness and creating unprecedented mobility and opportunity. 

Today, however, the infrastructure we all grew up with is aging. Technology – the great disruptor—is creating a new type of transport based on digital—not human—command and control.   In the future, computers, not people, will be in the driver’s seat.  That means “self-driving” cars, trucks, railroad cars, ships, and drones. 

This technology has the potential to change our lives in ways we can’t imagine.

Change, however, brings many challenges.  And the Department of Transportation will be at the forefront of shaping this change, by focusing on the three priorities at the heart of our mission: enhancing safety, refurbishing infrastructure and preparing for the future.

The President has consistently emphasized that one of his top priorities is modernizing our country’s outdated infrastructure.  While technology has advanced rapidly, our transportation system has not kept pace. His infrastructure initiative -- which will be announced later this year-- will include a strategic, targeted program of investment valued at $1 trillion over 10 years. The proposal will cover more than transportation infrastructure-- it will include energy, water and potentially broadband and veteran’s hospitals, as well.

Safety will continue to be a priority—it’s the core of the Department’s mission. And the President’s recently announced budget protects those safety functions. Going forward, we must strengthen safety with a balanced regulatory approach, based on sound science and risk-based analysis. The goal is to prevent accidents and fatalities before they happen. 

Another key issue, of course, is how to pay for infrastructure without saddling future generations with massive debt. The President’s plan hopes to unleash the potential for private investment in infrastructure by incentivizing public-private partnerships.  This is one additional way to address the resource needs of transportation systems. 

Investors say there is ample capital available, waiting to invest in infrastructure projects. So, the problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments. That’s why a critical part of the President’s infrastructure plan will include common-sense regulatory, administrative, organizational, and policy changes that will encourage investment and speed project delivery. 

As the former Secretary of Labor, I am concerned about the impact of technology on workers and jobs.  Smart technology will still require human interaction to function at its best.  But the new jobs being created will require higher skills and digital literacy.  So, education and skills training will be more important than ever before.  We need to help ease the transition.

The changes and challenges we face today are opportunities to work together.  That’s why I want to work with you-- my colleagues, elected officials and stakeholders-- to incentivize the future, eliminate unnecessary barriers to change, and usher in a new era of safety, mobility and prosperity for our country and its residents. Thank you again for being here today to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U. S. Department of Transportation, and to preview the future we will help shape together!"

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