David Winstead, an attorney with Ballard Spahr LLP and former Secretary of Transportation in the state of Maryland, speculates on U.S. Department of Transportation challenges, initiatives and priorities under the incoming Biden Administration.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden has nominated Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, as the next Secretary of Transportation. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Winstead notes, both Buttigieg and Biden spoke strongly about the importance of new investments in transportation, for repair and construction of roads and bridges as well as public transit, high-speed rail, pedestrian safety and multimodal transport. Still, the new DOT secretary, like all of his predecessors, will have to balance competing interests of freight, passengers, public transit and bikes, in addition to managing the conflicts that frequently arise between transportation modes.
Winstead sees the state of public transit, which suffered huge drops in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the most urgent issue that the incoming DOT secretary will have to face. At the same time, ways must be found to repair and construct the nation’s vital but crumbling infrastructure of roads, bridges, rail, ports and airports. It’s crucial that programs to that end obtain adequate federal funds, Winstead said, although some form of public-private partnerships might also be needed, given the reluctance of both major political parties to raise the federal fuel tax, which has paid for transportation projects up to now. In any case, Winstead says, it’s important that the allocation of funds for such projects be made at the local level, “by people on the ground who understand the need, and can design programs to deliver that.”
Also on the incoming secretary’s agenda will be the growing presence of electric vehicles and autonomous trucks and cars, as environmental concerns reorder spending priorities.
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