NLC’s Brittney Kohler discusses a new approach to transportation in 2020 to address technology, funding challenges, and sustainability
The National League of Cities is not only a resource, but also an advocate for cities across the nation. For over 90 years, the organization has helped to advance local governments. From public safety, to infrastructure, to energy, the National League of Cities acts to improve cities across the nation.
Brittney Kohler is the Program Director for Transportation & Infrastructure Services with the National League of Cities. She has more than a decade of experience specializing in infrastructure policy, and now she is working to improve infrastructure throughout the country. Kohler previously worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Amtrak, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. In the coming year, she will continue working to advance the state of infrastructure through education and advocacy.
American Infrastructure: In your words, how would you describe the goals for transportation and infrastructure in 2020 for the National League of Cities?
Brittney Kohler: Transportation across our nation is changing rapidly, with new mobility options and technology-driven shifts. Cities, towns, and villages are also painfully aware that today’s well-worn in systems need investment. We believe federal transportation funding and programs will not only need to ramp up but also change. We need to reauthorize the FAST Act before the September 2020 deadline. As Congress moves forward, there’s no transportation choice that doesn’t deserve a fresh look.
Communities are facing several funding hurdles in 2020. The federal Trust Fund is dwindling down to low levels, requiring automatic cuts to funding going out the door to local transportation providers. Most folks don’t realize that Congress shorted the FAST Act by $7.6 billion of contract authority in 2020. Unless Congress reverses that rescission before the end of the year, the U.S. will start 2020 with a few billion in transportation projects stalled. Given that we need to be investing more as a nation, these setbacks to the status quo federal programs are alarming. Communities need a stable partner in the federal government, a partner who carries their weight and embraces the innovation potential percolating in transportation right now.
AI: How do you expect technology to shape (or reshape) the trends we are seeing in infrastructure?
BK: Cities are embracing new technology in transportation. We are starting to see the real benefits of managing systems and using data to improve outcomes. In many ways, cities are now living laboratories where new mobility models are piloted from transportation network companies. This includes bus rapid transit, micromobility, shared rides, and autonomous shuttles. The emerging model of the future is shared, connected, and most importantly, managed with good analytics.
Interestingly, a lot of the developments in transportation today are happening in what we have traditionally referred to as “transit.” Transit is a space that has been largely marginalized when it comes to federal transportation investment. However, it is coming back to the forefront as very traditional assets – cars, bikes, and buses – become shared rides and technology-enabled platforms. As new mobility partnerships form and develop between cities, technology partners, and our transit providers, we expect to see greater adaption and integration throughout our nation.
AI: How can we implement more sustainable practices into infrastructure initiatives and projects?
BK: Transportation is now the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and federal transportation policies will inform how we embrace sustainability in our infrastructure. For example, the data shows us that half of the trips in the U.S. are less than 3 miles. By enhancing safe alternatives to driving, we can improve congestion and cut down emissions from car trips that may be easier to take by foot, bike, scooter, transit, or ride-share. Each area has different needs, but transportation decisions will likely be part of a comprehensive approach to emissions and addressing the resiliency of infrastructure to withstand extreme weather.
AI: What is one thing you want policymakers to know moving forward into 2020?
BK: Cities, towns, and villages are all looking at how we can start to address our regional and national challenges with better service, better maintenance, and using technology solutions. No one knows transportation systems better than local officials – the residents talk to them, they experience them, and they sit on the MPO boards that make regional investments. We hope that Congress takes us up on our offer to be more engaged in advancing our transportation connectivity needs and using our technology savvy to get the results our neighbors and businesses want to see.