Streetsblog Q&A: Bush DOT Chief Backs 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
yesterday 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.

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