It's a happy Friday for transportation wonks: the White House has nominated Polly Trottenberg, executive director of Building America's Future, as assistant secretary for policy at the federal DOT.
Polly Trottenberg, tapped as assistant DOT secretary (Photo: NewTalk)
Trottenberg's ascension signals that the Obama administration will make transit a serious priority and encourage a more equitable consideration of urban priorities during debate on the upcoming federal transportation bill. Her dozen years of Senate experience, including stints in the offices of Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), also will prove a valuable asset to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, himself a veteran of the House.
But it's Trottenberg's independent analysis of the recent economic stimulus bill that stands out. She joined New York City DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and former New York State DOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn for a series of progressive recommendations for the stimulus plan -- some of which, such as the "fix-it-first" requirement for roads and bridges, were left out of the final legislation.
And in a panel discussion at NewTalk, Trottenberg acknowledged that the stimulus bill's speedy delivery of cash to state DOTs was at odds with the Obama administration's goal of promoting "green energy":
It appears that we have made some progress in advancing a moretransparent and accountable infrastructure policy in the economicstimulus bill, but it’s likely that we will not do much to achieve whatshould be our ultimate goal – resolving the more fundamental questionof what we are trying to accomplish with our federal investments andtargeting the funds accordingly.
For example, President-elect Obama has called for a “green energy”approach to economic recovery, which will focus on projects that reduceenergy consumption. However, if you survey the potential list oftransportation projects proposed by a number of State Departments ofTransportation, it appears likely this legislation will fund billionsof dollars in new highway capacity in suburban and exurban areas. Theseprojects will exacerbate auto-dependent development and increase fossilfuel consumption.
It's too soon to say whether Trottenberg can combat the desire for political expediency that led to some bad transportation decision-making in the name of economic stimulus. Yet her arrival in the Obama administration is certainly good news.
Late Update: Schumer has released a glowing statement on the nomination of his former aide:
There is no one more knowledgeable and dedicated to improvingtransportation in this country than Polly Trottenberg. Americans can feelconfident that they will see their transportation system across all modesimprove because Polly was nominated today.