Leif Wathne and other members and staff of the Highway Users (AHUA) had an opportunity last week to participate in a virtual “meet & greet” with the Hon. Charles Small, US DOT Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs.

In his current role, Secretary Small will work primarily with state and local government officials, he said.  “a major focus of my job is to make sure we’re communicating effectively with folks like you, as well as with our state and local agency partners.”

Laura Perrotta, Highway Users’ President and CEO, presented the association’s legislative priorities. In response, Sec. Small expressed appreciation for the input, but noted that the agency is still in listening mode but pivoting toward infrastructure. He noted that there are lots of conversations ongoing within DOT about President Biden’s Build Back Better proposal.

In response to a question about deploying electric vehicle technology, Secretary Small urged highway uses to “push on the need to go big! Meet with Congress and sister agencies,” he said, adding the US DOT aims to be a good partner in this effort.

Although there remains some uncertainty about whether highway funding will come from reauthorization or reconciliation, Secretary Small said, “from my perspective, the politics are the politics. We’d like to make this as bipartisan as possible, but the process is very fluid, and we’ll see what the politics allow for.”

“Everything we do will be informed with an eye toward sustainability and racial equity,” he said, adding, “[We are] earnestly looking to make this shift. It may mean we build things in a different way. We need to find new ways to live and do business in the post-COVID era.”

Responding to a question about possible capacity expansion on the federal-aid highway system given an anticipated population increase of about 56 million by 2050, the secretary said, “[We] recognize that capacity expansion has to be a part of the solution.”

“Travel behaviors will likely change post-Covid as more people remain working from home and people possibly shift to other [transportation] modes, but freight still needs to move,” he said, adding, “We are aware of the need to keep our highways functioning efficiently given the anticipated growth.” He emphasized the need to leverage both technology and innovation to develop new solutions for the future.

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