President Obama's nominee to head the Department of Transportation, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, said he would prioritize safety, efficiency, and building multi-modal infrastructure in testimony before a Senate committee on Wednesday.
As mayor of the nation's 17th largest city, Foxx supported the opening of Charlotte's Lynx light rail system that cost $462 million in public money to construct, but that has spurred more than $1 billion in private investment since 2007, according to Foxx. He said transportation projects can serve as catalysts for economic development, not only mobility.
Foxx faced a warm welcome from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation whose members expressed support for his nomination. Their questions concerned both local and federal issues, namely the enormous funding challenges the next secretary will face during a time of federal budget tightening.
When asked by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV if he believed it made sense to move beyond the current formulaic funding programs toward a more multi-modal strategic model, Foxx said yes.
"We have a variety of transportation systems in this country," he said. "All of them are important. But we do have to work in a way that helps communities, states, and local governments, as well as the federal government, move this country forward in a very robust way."
Foxx promised to continue current Sec. Ray LaHood's crusade against distracted driving and support the development of the NextGen air traffic control system.
In light of the recent commuter rail derailment and collision in Connecticut, Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked Foxx about his commitment to using the best technology to improve safety on the nation's rail lines.
"It speaks to the issue of maintaining a good state of repair with our existing infrastructure," Foxx said. "And you have my commitment to keep safety as the number one priority whether it is rail or any other mode of transportation."
On the issue of tolling highways, Foxx sought a middle ground. Tolling new lane capacity through the use of public-private partnerships has become a major issue in states like Virginia, where electronic toll lanes have opened on the Capital Beltway to mixed reviews. Virginia is currently building more HOT lanes on I-95 and considering a similar approach for heavily congested I-66.
"Tolling... has a place," Foxx said. "We're not going to toll our way to prosperity as a country. It is a tool that can be used in some instances, for example, to add capacity and to pay for that capacity privately. But I don't think it is a complete solution to how we deal with our surface transportation issues."
If confirmed, Foxx would succeed Sec. Ray LaHood, who announced his intention to leave the Obama administration in January.