Polly Trottenberg Tapped for Senior U.S. DOT Spot

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.

trottenberg.jpgPolly 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 more
transparent and accountable infrastructure policy in the economic
stimulus bill, but it’s likely that we will not do much to achieve what
should be our ultimate goal – resolving the more fundamental question
of what we are trying to accomplish with our federal investments and
targeting the funds accordingly.

For example, President-elect Obama has called for a “green energy”
approach to economic recovery, which will focus on projects that reduce
energy consumption. However, if you survey the potential list of
transportation projects proposed by a number of State Departments of
Transportation, it appears likely this legislation will fund billions
of dollars in new highway capacity in suburban and exurban areas. These
projects will exacerbate auto-dependent development and increase fossil
fuel 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.