March 1, 2017 3:45 PM, EST

Chao Extols Private Investment in Infrastructure in Speech at AASHTO Event

Pete Marovich/Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — Speaking at a gathering of state transportation officials here on March 1, newly-confirmed Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao declared that the nation “is at a tipping point. Business as usual is no longer an option. … The time has come for a new program of national rebuilding.”

Chao said that DOT will work to hasten the program of “national rebuilding” via regulatory reform, revamped grant programs and more private investment in infrastructure.

“I think everyone can agree that our country can no longer afford to take decades to build a new bridge, highway or airport,” she said. “What are the obstacles standing in the way of timelier project delivery? Are there processes that could be streamlined? Are we implementing fully recent changes in the FAST Act that allow more flexibility in environmental reviews, permitting and project delivery? There are many innovative financing tools available, such as public-private partnerships, that can be more fully utilized. Barriers that hamper our ability to tap the full potential of public private partnerships need to be removed.”

Chao also praised the private sector for leading the development of automated vehicles which she noted can expand transportation options for the elderly and disabled and likely vastly reduce the number of traffic deaths. Chao said that the administration is re-evaluating the automated vehicles policy that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued last September while President Obama was still in office.

“There’s a lot at stake in getting this technology right,” said Chao, who also noted the role of drones both in delivering goods and in monitoring the safety of rail lines and pipelines. “The federal role in this emerging technology is still in its infancy. … We want to work with you to ensure that the federal government is a catalyst for safe, effective technologies, not an impediment.”

Without getting specific, Chao said that DOT “will likely revisit a number of proposed and final rulemakings to further streamline project delivery and reduce unnecessary administrative burdens. … We must ensure that regulatory decisions are rooted in analysis derived from sound science and data … they should also include … the costs and benefits of new rulemakings.”

With a replacement for former Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration chief Scott Darling yet to be named, Chao didn’t mention trucking in her 15-minute speech to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. However, she did acknowledge the impact of the nation’s failing infrastructure on the bottom lines of businesses and consumers.

“Businesses employing millions of workers are losing their competitive edge because our country’s infrastructure can’t accommodate their logistical systems,” Chao told “That means more supply chain disruptions and inventories that languish longer than necessary in warehouses. That adds unnecessary costs to the bottom line and drives up the cost of goods and services.”

Chao, who previously served as deputy DOT secretary under President George H.W. Bush and as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, spoke in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump re-iterated to a joint session of Congress his intention to devote $1 trillion over the next decade to bolstering America’s failing infrastructure.

Calling her audience, “the front-line warriors in charge of building, maintaining and repairing our transportation infrastructure,” Chao praised the nation’s network of roads, bridges, ports and the like for providing millions of jobs as well as “unprecedented mobility, safety and security.” However, she quickly added that those positives are “jeopardized by infrastructure in need of repair, the specter of rising highway fatalities, growing congestion and by a failure to keep pace with emerging technologies.”