Bush DOT Chief Urges More Transport Tech Funding

Former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters,
who served for eight years in George W. Bush’s DOT, sat down with
Streetsblog Capitol Hill this week to urge that Congress add a
dedicated funding stream of $1 billion each year for transportation
technology to the next long-term infrastructure bill.

Since leaving office, Peters has transitioned to private consulting work in her home state of Arizona and joined the board of directors at Aldis, a Tennessee-based traffic management company.

Alids’ GridSmart
program, a panoramic camera that captures vehicles and pedestrians at
intersections and helps "smartly" synchronize traffic signals
accordingly (see the above video), would stand to gain if Congress
heeds Peters’ advice and directly funds transportation technology.

Peters
acknowledged that her proposal for the next infrastructure bill would
help Aldis, but she described the billion-dollar dedicated funding as
an opportunity for states and cities to choose their own high-tech
solutions for traffic management. "This is a great application," Peters
said of the GridSmart, "but there are others out there."

The House’s original version of the 2005 transportation bill, which was recently extended
for another month amid political wrangling, included $3 billion over
five years for technological upgrades, also known as "intelligent
transportation." But that money was removed from the legislation during
conference talks with the Senate, Peters noted, leaving states without
federal help with modernizing their congestion management.

The
annual $1 billion fund Peters is backing would be distributed to states
by formula, but state DOTs would have to report back to Washington on
how effectively their technological investments were meeting specific
performance targets. (For more on Peters’ support of a federal role in
setting transportation standards, see Part I of the Streetsblog interview.)

What
standards does Peters think should be used to judge state DOTs’
technological upgrades? Decreased delay time, but also safety for
drivers as well as pedestrians. On that issue, the GridSmart program
would also get a leg up — Aldis’ cameras have the ability not just to
lengthen green lights for a row of trucks, but also to extend red
lights so a large volume of pedestrians could cross a street without
being trapped on the sidewalk.

Peters said she could also see
states being asked to use their transportation technology money on
better road pricing systems, such as the traffic management cameras
that were installed as part of Miami’s federally funded I-95 HOT lanes.

The House’s current draft
of a new long-term infrastructure bill does not include dedicated money
for transport technology, but "intelligent transportation" is not
without its congressional allies; Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) has founded
a caucus that focuses on the issue. And the likely delay in taking up
the next long-term bill could end up giving Peters and Aldis more time
to press their case.

  • Ray

    Peters served from Oct 2006 to Jan 2009

  • Peter Smith

    i don’t know enough about this type of stuff to criticize it fully, but i do get a strong feeling of ‘no’.

    to me, any funding for transportation, car/bike/walk/train/whatever, has to lean towards tilting the balance of power away from cars and towards everything else. i don’t see how this money does that.

    for instance, let’s say we commit this new 1,000 million dollars — how much of that will go towards ‘traffic management’ technology which will help make the driving experience more pleasant? $500 million or more? if it was $551 million going towards non-car technology/infrastructure, or $551 million going towards charging car drivers for the actual damage they’re doing (somehow capturing externalities, say, through decongestion pricing, etc.), then yes, let’s do this funding — otherwise, just no.

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