In a roomful of governors, everyone’s eyes were on the new secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao. Addressing the National Governors Association on Feb. 26, Chao remarked on how vital upgrades are to the country's infrastructure and how technology can play a role in vehicular safety.
“The new automated technologies have the potential of dramatically changing commercial transportation and private travel, expanding access for millions within our borders,” said Chao in one of her first public briefings as transportation secretary. “Automated technology has the potential to help eliminate human error and reduce crashes and fatalities significantly.”
In her opening remarks, Chao mentioned some of the topics the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has already worked on including the 10 automated proving ground stations, the recent UPS drone delivery program and the federal automated vehicle policy.
The rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs) was on the mind of many during the address. A lot of confusion and speculation surrounds how the Trump administration will regulate the emerging technology.
In September, the DOT released guidelines on how AVs should be regulated at the federal and state levels. “This administration is evaluating this guidance and will consult with you and other stakeholders and we update it and amend it to ensure that it strikes the right balance,” Chao said.
When Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker commented on the potential economic hardships displaced truck drivers could feel over automated freight, Chao replied: “As a former secretary of labor I'm very concerned about that. We do have to transition people [into other careers] and keep that in mind.”
Chao continued to hint at the role that industry plays in the future of the nation’s infrastructure. “The private sector is driving these innovations, working with cities and states like yourselves.”
When asked about the Trump administration’s role in infrastructure, and his proposed $1 trillion package, Chao remained noncommittal. “Everyone wants a better transportation system, but very few want to pay for it.” While a lot has been said about the administration's use of public-private partnerships, Chao pumped the brakes on speculation that they were the only solution being offered.
“We do look forward to public-private partnerships,” she said. “But that is not the answer for everything. There is a cost to that and consumer lack of acceptance for toll roads in certain areas.”
In Trump’s joint address to Congress on Feb. 28 he is expected to mention the administration’s plans for infrastructure spending.