EXCLUSIVE: ITS America 2016 San Jose closes with plea to next US President not to abandon transportation research

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Former US Secretary for Transportation Rodney Slater used an onstage interview, with ITS America’s Regina Hopper at the close of the organization’s annual event, to praise the Obama administration for all it has done in transportation, and issue a plea to the next incumbent at the White House to continue the good work.

Slater spoke ahead of a fascinating Q&A session with Silicon Valley CEOs; an address from the USDOT’s Greg Winfree (below), who looked forward eagerly to the soon-to-be-announced winner of the USDOT’s Smart City Challenge; and keynote speaker Frank DiGiammarino of Amazon Web Services, who spoke about how the cloud can benefit transportation in far-reaching ways.

Regina Hopper asked Slater to consider the possibilities of either a President Clinton or a President Trump and what effect that may have on transportation policy. “First of all I think it’s very important to applaud the efforts of this administration,” said Slater. “I think that they’ve done two things in particular that have really been significant in regaining the confidence of the American people when it comes to the expenditure of tax dollars. You had the stimulus package early on in the administration, which took a significant amount of resources, and had not one incident of scandal. And then recently we had the passage of the FAST act, which was the first time in 10 years that we’ve had a multi-year transportation bill.”

“But we need more resources,” continued Slater “I think what we have to do is talk about why we need those resources. Transportation is about more than concrete and asphalt and steel. It’s about our connections to one another. Connections family to family. It’s about our connections to the schools we attend and the jobs that give meaning to our lives. Transportation is the tie that binds it is a powerful force. It also gives us access to markets around the world.

“And one fear that I have is because we’re not investing enough in R&D – and we need to invest more – you have countries like Germany, and China in particular, trying to overtake us when it comes to technological investment, and we cannot have that if we want to be clear leaders in the future. I think it’s important to make that case to both candidates, and to those who will be down-ballot candidates, the members of the Senate the members of Congress and state and local officials as well.

“I will say that I know Hilary Clinton has already unveiled a significant transportation program and one that includes some innovative financing techniques, a global national infrastructure bank which is something we’ve been working for for a long time. It’s a significant increase in infrastructure investment. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out. But both sides need to be engaged and this is the kind of audience that can do that necessary engagement.”

The event closed with key speakers (above left to right, Hopper, Slater, DiGiammarino, ITS America Chair Jill Ingrassia and Winfree) summing up what they had learned from the week. Conclusions praised a dynamic industry that is developing the smart infrastructure for the next generation, government being a force for good, the way that collaboration drives innovation and the importance of continuing the dialogue about ITS.

But it was left to Winfree to have the final word as he bade a fond farewell to ITS America. “I want to thank the people in this room,” he said “This is my last meeting in the Assistant Secretary role as we prepare for a new administration. I’ve been affiliated with you folks since 2011. I really appreciate the camaraderie, the friendship, the professionalism and the ability to be thought of as a peer: I came in as a lawyer, but you understood I had a passion for innovation. So I wanted to say thank you to Regina, to Jill to the members of ITS America and its board. It’s been a tremendous opportunity, it’s been a life changing experience and I’m very grateful.” 

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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