Trottenberg Mum on Highway Funding Details

Deputy DOT Nominee Appears Before Senate Commerce Committee
Polly Trottenberg discusses pedestrian and bike safety as New York City commissioner of transportation. (CBS New York via YouTube)

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 Polly Trottenberg, nominated to become second in command at the U.S. Department of Transportation, told senators she was unable to disclose details about the Biden administration’s funding plans related to highway policy.

Appearing before the Commerce Committee on March 3, the nominee explained to senators, including ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), she lacked insight into President Joe Biden’s vision for a transformative infrastructure vision.

Trottenberg is not yet a member of the administration. Most recently, she was New York City’s commissioner of transportation. Soon after his inauguration, Biden has signaled interest in unveiling a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure funding plan. That proposal would come soon after the enactment of a new round of COVID-19 relief for state agencies, according to White House officials.

Members of the Commerce Committee say they require details from the Biden team about ways to fund highway programs. The panel is among the committees of jurisdiction tasked with updating the country’s premier highway law, which expires at the end of September.

Wicker, as well as colleagues Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), pressed the nominee on funding specifics linked to the Highway Trust Fund. The federal account has been operating on insufficient revenue from fuel taxes.

“I know that the secretary [Pete Buttigieg], when he was before this committee, talked about the fact that the administration is interested in, I think, a big, important surface transportation reauthorization proposal.” Trottenberg told the panel. “I’m not in a position today to tell you exactly, I think, what they might be looking at in terms of funding. But I know the secretary spoke about the fact that he very much wants to work with members of this committee and other committees of jurisdiction to find a way to make the kind of investments we need in our transportation system.”

The nominee acknowledged that for many years identifying a highway-funding fix on Capitol Hill has been elusive.

I know there are discussions underway about what will be in the president’s budget … looking at stimulus and a surface bill.

DOT Deputy Secretary nominee Polly Trottenberg

“I’m not in the department yet, so I haven’t been part of, sort of, those intimate discussions,” she said, "but I certainly know that the administration, obviously their big immediate focus has been COVID[-19] relief and the reconciliation [budget] bill.”

But I know there are discussions underway about what will be in the president’s budget … looking at stimulus and a surface bill. And we understand loud and clear from members on the Hill that there’s a … big desire for the administration to come soon with proposals and ideas.”

Revenue from the Highway Trust Fund is used to assist state agencies. Advancements in fuel economy decrease the fund’s revenue. Congress approved the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax and 18.4 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax rates in 1993. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently issued the nation’s infrastructure a grade of C-.


At the hearing, Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) expounded on the significance of the freight supply chain, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The senator pressed the nominee on efforts meant to ameliorate workforce concerns throughout the trucking industry, specifically reports about a driver shortage.

Young asserted a driver shortage might contribute to economic problems across the country. Trottenberg told the senator she acknowledged the industry’s contributions in ensuring the flow of freight, and pledged to reinforce the resilience of freight corridors.

“As you know, a strong domestic supply chain is essential for a competitive national economy, and the efficiency of the domestic supply chain is contingent upon the efficiency of our transportation networks,” Young told Trottenberg. “I’m concerned about the trucking industry’s growing driver shortage and its impact on the resiliency of our domestic supply chain.”

Fleets are investing in tech-based safety tools that inform and forewarn potential risk. But how do they condition and prepare drivers to respond to safety alerts? Find out as the RoadSigns Team speaks with Tom DiSalvi, VP of safety at Schneider National, and Charlie Mohn, director of product innovation at Drivewyze. Hear a snippet, above, and get the full program by going to

Over the years, the senator has pushed for the creation of a federal apprenticeship to allow commercial drivers younger  than 21 to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. Last month, Biden directed the department to review the efficacy of the nation’s supply chain.

Committee chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) touted Trottenberg’s experience, noting her tenures in New York City and at the federal level. The chairwoman has yet to schedule a committee vote on her nomination. If confirmed by the senate, Trottenberg would be Secretary Buttigeig’s deputy.

Prior to her stint in New York City, Trottenberg was a senior member of the Obama administration’s transportation team. Her academic pedigree includes degrees from Barnard College and Harvard University.

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