July 8, 2019 2:30 PM, EDT

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Stresses Benefits of Long-Term Highway Bill

Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoTransportation Secretary Elaine Chao says state and local governments could engage in long-term planning "if they know they're going to have this money for five years rather than six months." (US National Archives via YouTube)

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June ended with the country’s top transportation officer emphasizing that a multiyear highway policy directive from Washington is more beneficial to state agencies than a series of short-term extensions of federal guidelines.

Secretary Elaine Chao drilled down on this point, admittedly obvious to stakeholders, during an in-depth conversation with Hugo Gurdon, editor of The Washington Examiner, on June 26.

“The general pattern is in fact to just have extensions, not full reauthorization. But clearly, the certainty of having a longer time frame is very important to those who are involved in infrastructure,” said the secretary, sitting across from the journalist on stage at the Heritage Foundation. “State and local governments, you know, if they know they’re going to have this money for five years rather than six months, they can actually plan for the future. So a longer-term horizon is better.”

Eugene Mulero

The conservative think tank is a few blocks from the Senate side of the Capitol, where the surface transportation panel on July 10 ideally will kick off the obvious task of determining a strategy for reauthorizing surface transportation policy. The current highway law expires in less than 15 months.

By now, a consensus has been established inside the Beltway that advancing comprehensive infrastructure policy is unlikely this year. Separate press conferences in May from President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing their failed negotiations on a $2 trillion infrastructure measure cemented the notion that top-level infrastructure talks had collapsed.

Since then, Trump has focused on immigration policy. Pelosi has pressed forward with investigations into Trump’s political and business worlds. The Republican leadership in the Senate has not proposed an infrastructure measure during Trump’s tenure.

Reacting to Gurdon’s suggestion that comprehensive infrastructure policy would not advance in the foreseeable future, Chao exclaimed, “I haven’t given up hope yet.”

She added, “The president is optimistic, and the White House, they’re talking to Congress about this.”

The Week Ahead (All times Eastern)

Spotlight Hearing

July 10, 10 a.m.: Carlos Braceras, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, leads a panel of witnesses appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to examine the potential benefits of reauthorizing surface transportation programs. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle claim to be in favor of approving a long-term highway reauthorizing measure that avoids short-term approvals of safety provisions and funding programs. The five-year FAST Act highway law expires at the end of September 2020.

July 9-11: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hosts a meeting of the National Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council.

July 9, 7 p.m.: Politics and Prose bookstore hosts a discussion on, “The Land of Flickering Lights: Restoring America in an Age of Broken Politics” with author, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

July 10, 10 a.m.: The Senate Commerce Committee will mark up legislation, such as the “Stop Senior Scams Act” and the “Blockchain Promotion Act.” The nominations of Stephen Dickson and Michelle Schultz to be administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and a member of the Surface Transportation Board, respectively, will be considered.

July 10, 1:40 p.m.: The House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee hosts a hearing on water infrastructure projects.

July 10, 7 p.m.: Politics and Prose bookstore hosts a discussion on, “The Next Realignment: Why America’s Parties Are Crumbling and What Happens Next” with author Frank DiStefano.

July 11, 8 a.m.: The Homeland Security Department hosts a meeting of the Surface Transportation Security Advisory Committee.

Rep. Paul Tonko


July 11, 9:30 a.m.: The Environmental and Energy Study Institute hosts its Congressional Clean Energy Expo and Policy Forum. Speakers will include Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.).

July 11, 9:45 am.: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts its “Data Done Right” summit.

July 11, 10 a.m.: The House Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Subcommittee hosts a hearing titled, “Building Opportunity in Rural America through Affordable, Reliable and High-Speed Broadband.”

Mood Swings

This week, infrastructure policy will make a cameo on Capitol Hill. The White House, however, is not publicly discussing it.


In Case You Missed It

The congressman formerly with the Freedom Caucus offers the Beltway intelligentsia a classic chicken-or-egg scenario.

Who’s New (Amazonification edition)

Bike culture in Northern Virginia had been thriving prior to Amazon’s plans to make the Arlington neighborhood of Crystal City its second home. Once the company is fully operational, expect more bikes along the trails. These megacorporations have the potential of enhancing alternative modes of travel across megapolises. Transport Topics recently caught up with Lauren Jenkins, communications director at the League of American Bicyclists, for the group’s perspective.

Lauren Jenkins


“Across the country, local officials and businesses have the power to promote active transportation options through better urban planning that offers affordable places to live near where people work and offers people who work farther away safe places to bike, walk, or take transit to where they need to go. In places like Arlington, Virginia, officials had been working for years to design and build infrastructure changes that would encourage residents to opt for alternative transportation options, earning a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community award from the league,” Jenkins said.

She cited reporting by the American Society of Landscape Architects that emphasized Amazon picked Crystal City for its second headquarters partly because of the area’s access to bike paths, walkability and transit options.

“More than 1,200 businesses have earned a Bicycle Friendly Business designation from the league, in recognition of their efforts to support employees and customers who bike,” Jenkins added.


Don’t expect Congress anytime soon to investigate the grants selection process at the U.S. Department of Transportation, per various sources.

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The Last Word

Out of this door, to my right, comes this Marine in full uniform. He sets a Diet Coke right there in front of the president of the United States. True story.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference on June 27

Mark Meadows

We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.