Federal Modal Leaders Stress Synergy, Equity as Key Transportation Priorities

The current acting administrators for the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and Federal Railroad Administration, shared the transportation priorities of their agencies during the virtual 2021 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Washington Briefing on February 25.

[Clockwise from top left: Shawn Wilson, Louisiana DOTD secretary; FHWA’s Pollack; FRA’s Bose; FTA’s Fernandez.]

“We’ll be working differently within the U.S. Department of Transportation, breaking down silos and working across modes and issues to deliver on the administration’s ‘Build Back Better’ priorities,” explained Stephanie Pollack, FHWA’s acting administrator and the former secretary and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Stephanie Pollack

“We will be building on traditional partnerships with state DOTs with broader objectives in mind,” she said. “It is not about the dollars we spend or conditions of roads/bridges but how we modernize to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and environmental laws. We need to go beyond ‘fix it first’ to ‘fix it right.’ It will still be the same job but we will be using our planning processes to ensure we take into account equity, climate change, and economic development. It will be about how we work equity and inclusion into project selection and design.”

Nuria Fernandez, FTA’s acting administrator, said her agency could be potentially disbursing $80 billion in transit funding alone in 2021 depending on the passage of the administration’s proposed COVID-19 relief and infrastructure bills.

Nuria Fernandez

“But we will take extra care to consider equity in that decision making to ensure support for underserved communities,” she explained. “We will go to great stretches to remove barriers to opportunity. Equality ensures everyone can ride the bus, but equity ensures everyone has a way to get to the bus – it addresses the sidewalks, curbs, and bus stops.”

Fernandez said promoting “just and fair inclusion” allows everyone in society to achieve their full potential. “’Building Back Better’ is about closing gaps and emphasizing that public transportation is a great equalizer,” she said. “It allows people to get to jobs, schools, and services regardless of their ability to own a vehicle. And we will place emphasis on how to make those connections in a safe way.”

Amit Bose

Amit Bose, FRA’s acting administrator, added that the Biden administration is also “committed to protecting? lives of front line workers” and that means “in addition to challenges faced by COVID-19, we’ll focus on integrating safety across transportation network – for zero is the only appropriate number when we talk about fatalities.”

He also noted that FRA is focusing on developing a Disadvantages Business Enterprise or DBE program similar to those in place at FTA, FHWA, and other federal transportation agencies.

“We want to make sure we provide significant resources to the places and people who most need government support,” he said. “We’ll be adding DBE firms to any project funded through our grant programs.”

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