Today’s first hearing in the 116th Congress of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee highlighted the importance of finding solutions to America’s infrastructure needs; solutions that include the safe integration of innovative technologies and reducing the length of the project delivery process.

“We all know that we have significant infrastructure needs, and we have to continue rebuilding and improving our infrastructure network – roads, bridges, ports, waterways, transit, railways, airports, and water infrastructure. But we also have to realize, as we work to meet our needs for the long-term, that we have to think outside the box,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) said after today’s hearing. “We’ve got to take a transformative approach when it comes to our infrastructure. Our economy depends on it. I hope that Congress and the Administration will work together to address our infrastructure needs, and that includes finding a forward-looking fix for the Highway Trust Fund and reducing the time involved in the project delivery process.
“Technology also needs to be a central part of improving our infrastructure for the future. Integrating innovative technologies can not only make our infrastructure safer and more efficient, it can reduce costs, alleviate congestion, and address environmental impacts,” Graves added. “I appreciate that our panel today, including our state and local government witnesses, stressed the importance of encouraging innovation, providing the flexibility to more nimbly respond to developments in technology, and streamlining the project delivery process wherever possible.”
During today’s hearing, Eric Fanning, President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, discussed the potential for developing aviation technologies – such as Urban Air Mobility (UAM), drones, commercial space transportation, and supersonic flight – to help address our infrastructure needs, reduce congestion, and increase the efficiency and capacity of the transportation system, without necessarily involving significant infrastructure costs. Excerpts from Fanning’s testimony:

“Imagine how much simpler a daily commute could be if you could bypass traffic, potholes, and construction by flying over them.… imagine how many more options those who are elderly or disabled will have with this new technology.”
“… the future of American infrastructure is coming – and sooner than you think—through airbuses that provide an alternative to our commuter rails and rush hour drives; the new line of ambulances that arrive faster and more safely because they can fly over traffic; and the long-distance air transportation that connects rural and urban communities like never before.”
“…so many other new innovations with their own impact, from the supersonic planes that will be managed by new and improved air traffic systems to the commercial space flights that will make us rethink airports around the world – and beyond.”
“Unfortunately, right now the United States is lagging behind much of the world….Unless we take action, it could be the Europeans defining the regulations the world follows, not the United States.”
Kristin Meira, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, pointed out the benefits of streamlining the project delivery process to U.S. ports, like the Port of Seattle. She highlighted Army Corps of Engineers reforms enacted under the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014, which set hard deadlines on the time and costs of project studies (known as the 3x3x3 process). From Meira’s testimony:
“Seattle is at the forefront of these efforts as one of the first projects in the nation to complete the 3x3x3 planning process, culminating in a WRDA 2018 authorization for their deepening project.”
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, representing the National Governors Association, highlighted governors’ support for incorporating technology as well as streamlining:
“Governors support federal actions that streamline project delivery, reduce approval and completion times, and increase transparency, but also achieve the intent that underlies critical environmental, planning, design, and procurement reviews.”
“Governors believe that innovative technologies should be embraced to achieve resiliency, security and efficiency. Infrastructure should incorporate new capabilities related to increasing connectivity, autonomy, digital information and electrification.”
Rich McArdle, President of UPS Freight, discussed the importance of technology to e-commerce:
“The nation’s supply chain is also adapting to the rapidly advancing e-commerce environment. Supply-chain fulfillment operations, including thousands that we interact with at UPS, have transitioned from an inventory based “manufacture-to-supply” model to a “manufacture-to-order” model.… Emerging technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and autonomous vehicles require modern infrastructure to allow these innovations to achieve the desired effects of maximizing the efficiency of the transportation network, while increasing safety for transportation workers.”
Larry Willis, President, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, referred to how technology could also play a role in how we fund the Highway Trust Fund in the future, given the challenges with the current user fees:
“We would also support any serious effort in this Congress to lay the groundwork for a transition to a mileage based user fee. As gasoline powered vehicles become more efficient and electric vehicles become more prevalent, contributions to the Highway Trust Fund will continue to dry up, leaving us back in the same position we are today.”