Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said the Department of Transportation has been working for more than a year on the blueprint to improve the nation's roads, rails, ports and air control towers.
(TNS) -- Riding to the Googleplex in a driverless car, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx unveiled on Monday a 30-year vision for what American transportation might look like in the coming decades.
Automated cars, such as the models Google is inventing. Drone-delivered packages. A flourishing of the ride-hailing services that Uber and Lyft pioneered. And, if changes are not made soon, a dystopian headache of traffic clogging outdated roads and worsening the wealth divide.
"If we don't get ahead of those challenges we're going to find ourselves stuck in traffic for a very long time," Foxx said.
Foxx said the Department of Transportation has been working for more than a year on the blueprint to improve the nation's roads, rails, ports and air control towers and prepare for 70 million more people projected to be living in the United States in 2045, mostly in metropolitan hubs of the West and South.
His choice to announce the framework at Google, alongside the company's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, signaled an interest in accelerating and getting the government out of the way of the kind of futuristic transportation technology Silicon Valley is developing.
"We've got to look at our own regulatory framework ... to make sure we're being as nimble and flexible and adaptive as we can be. ... That's what the future is demanding," Foxx said.
The event also marked the first public viewing of Google's new two-seater prototype self-driving car that will begin road tests on Bay Area streets once it gets an OK from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Foxx and Schmidt took a quick ride in the tiny electric-powered pod that dropped them off at an entrance to the corporate campus. It then drove away on its own.
"This is awesome, this is cool," Foxx remarked as Schmidt and Chris Urmson, the head of Google's self-driving car project, showed him how it worked.
Later, both Foxx and Schmidt acknowledged that the vehicle -- which has no steering wheel -- unnerved them.
"My hair kind of stood up a little bit," Foxx said.
A former mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Foxx was appointed in 2013 to be the Obama administration's transportation chief. Much of his focus has been on the short-term problems that plague the federal government's transportation policy, such as a highway fund that expires in May and has already been temporarily extended by Congress 32 times in just a few years, Foxx said.
"The country has basically been riding on cruise control with our system for quite a while," he said.
Foxx is not the first U.S. transportation chief to unveil a visionary 30-year plan. In fact, the last such document -- published in 1977 by Gerald Ford's then-Transportation Secretary William Coleman -- predicted that Americans already would be riding around in autonomous cars that reduce traffic congestion and improve road safety.
"By 2000, the driverless car may become a viable possibility," said the document, published in Coleman's last days on the job before the inauguration of Jimmy Carter.
But much of that era's transportation investments accommodated suburban growth, not the growing preference for urban living that Foxx said is going to concentrate more of America's population into big metropolitan regions such as the Bay Area.
"The idea here is not to be prescriptive, it's to define the problem and let the solutions evolve organically," Foxx said.
That means more public-private partnerships to advance technology, but also more preparation from the government to get safety regulations in line before emerging technologies such as automated vehicles are ready to launch, he said.
©2015 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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