By Burney Simpson
WASHINGTON—The nation’s transportation infrastructure needs to be expanded in regions where the population is growing and repaired where it is wearing out, but intransigence on Capitol Hill makes it difficult to move forward on such huge projects, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Monday at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) 94th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We plan like it’s 1975. Our transportation system has not caught up with the 21st Century,” Foxx told the TRB, a provider of information and research results for transportation researchers, public officials, academics, and other professionals. About 12,000 transportation experts from around the globe are attending the conference.
Foxx said population growth is occurring in the south and west but transportation programs aren’t being built to meet those regional needs. Meanwhile, the infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor is aging and needs repair.
Foxx said the DOT plans to release soon a 30-year framework for the U.S. transportation system, and urged the TRB attendees to contact their representatives in Congress to press for a national focus on infrastructure.
Despite Foxx’s frustration with stymied infrastructure projects, he is excited about opportunities in transportation, including the high-tech projects focused on developing autonomous driving. The concept, also known as driverless cars, is growing with research investments by the DOT, a number of state transportation departments, and manufacturers from GM to Ford to Audi and Mercedes Benz. Internet search engine giant Google is testing a prototype driverless car that California is scheduled to allow on select streets this year.
In general, autonomous driving refers to vehicles using GPS, radar and other systems to communicate with each other and the transportation infrastructure. The goal is for the vehicle to drive itself with little input from the passengers.
Proponents of driverless transportation and connected vehicles argue that the technology will mean fewer accidents and safer roads. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that human error is the cause of 93 percent of crashes.
Foxx said that autonomous driving offers significant benefits to the American transportation system and that the public will embrace the technology once they learn more about driverless systems.
“Vehicle-to-vehicle technology is the foundation to autonomous vehicles. It’s a tremendous advance. Once people experience the upside of this technology they will gravitate toward it,” Foxx said. “The future is very bright; it’s a very exciting time to be here.”
Foxx told NorthStar News Today that autonomous driving should mean more jobs, including national and state planning, vehicle engineering and technology, and sophisticated repair work on the computerized vehicles. “Technology is changing things for both car repair and upscale workers,” said Foxx. “There will be an opportunity to get more people in that space as the technology evolves.”
Foxx became transportation secretary in July 2013. He leads an agency with a $70 billion budget and more than 55,000 employees. From 2009 to 2013 Foxx was mayor of Charlotte, N.C., where he extended a light rail system and expanded the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, the sixth busiest airport in the world.