U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao made her case Friday for needed improvements to the nation’s aging infrastructure systems, saying the current network has sparked safety issues, congestion and lagging productivity.
Chao addressed a luncheon crowd hosted by Greater Louisville Inc. as part of its Capital Connection series at the Brown Hotel.
Chao touched on a number of infrastructure-related topics and highlighted President Donald Trump’s plans to improve the country’s transportation systems.
In her first remarks in Kentucky since accepting a role in Trump’s administration, Chao said that traffic congestion leads to more than $300 billion in wasted time and fuel, and she laid out the administration’s objectives in its infrastructure plan, which said said will include $200 billion in federal funding toward leveraging $1 trillion in investments over 10 years.
“While the plan is not yet final, the principles have been announced in May, and they include one, encouraging self-help by state and local governments because we want to be a partner; two, leveraging private-sector resources; three, making targeted federal investments in the most transformative projects; and four, streamlining project delivery,” Chao said.
“This administration believes the infrastructure can be improved without asking the taxpayers to shoulder all the burden,” she added. “That’s why a key component of the administration’s plan will be incentivizing public-private partnerships.”
Chao also highlighted the administration’s desire to improve air traffic control systems, meant to alleviate congestion at airports around the country.
Part of that push will be introducing state-of-the-art technology for those who oversee and direct air travel.
“In this day and age, air traffic controllers are still using paper strips to keep track of flights, and pilots are guided using 1960s radar technology,” Chao said. “It takes 20 percent more time now to fly between certain cities than it did 25 years ago.”
The administration’s push for infrastructure improvements could also include high-speed broadband.
Chao said her department is currently debating that topic as the administration’s plan is finalized, and she said technology firms have shown that laying new broadband lines might not be the best option in the future.
“Google, Apple, do you know they are experimenting — and doing it quite successfully in Africa, in southeast Asia — on how to provide WiFi, and instead of digging up roads, do you know what they’re doing? They’re providing WiFi through these low-flying satellites,” Chao said in response to a question from the GLI audience. She did not take questions from reporters after her remarks.