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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Spring 2021

Spring 2021
Issue No:
Vol. 85 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

What's New

New Era, New Opportunities

by Stephanie Pollack
Panoramic aerial view of the Nashville, Tennessee skyline. A dramatic bridge spans the river in the foreground while the sun peeks out of the clouds low in a golden sky. © Kruck20 /

Though I've only been with the Federal Highway Administration for a short time, it's already clear what an exciting time the coming year will be at FHWA and the U.S. Department of Transportation because of the central role that these agencies will play in the Biden-Harris Administration's "Build Back Better" agenda. With our local and State partners, FHWA will be critical in shaping how the Nation rebuilds highways, bridges, and streets to be better. Making sure they are safer for all users will be the foundation of a truly multimodal surface transportation system that advances the equity agenda of better connecting people to opportunity.

In my previous role as Secretary and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, I grew to admire FHWA's impor-tant work nationwide. In that role, I was probably best known for emphasizing that transportation is not important for what it is—for roads and bridges, concrete and steel, or even buses and trains—but for what it does. It helps people and their communities succeed and prosper.

Obviously, we are in the infrastructure business—but we are also in the people business. For example, while safety will always be our most important job, we need to make sure that we focus on everyone's safety—drivers and passengers, of course, but also pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, cyclists, and transit passengers entering or leaving their station or stop. That's why I am so excited about U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's embrace of complete streets, which are really just streets that are safe—and feel safe—for all users. We did a lot of great work on building complete streets in Massachusetts and I know there's more FHWA can do to ensure that streets everywhere are safe for everyone. To cite just one example, the pending changes to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices have the potential to empower local and State street owners to rethink how streets are signed, signaled, and marked, and how speed limits are set.

Complete streets are just one example of how the world of transportation is changing. By training, I am an engineer. By definition, engineers are problem solvers—but the problems we are asked to solve are changing. We cannot ensure that highways and bridges are well-maintained without making sure our infrastructure investments are succeeding in making transportation networks more reliable. We want to ensure those investments advance equity and help build a transportation system that works for everyone. We also want to ensure that those investments address climate change, and acknowledge that the transportation sector produces the largest and fastest growing set of greenhouse gas emissions.

As I see it, we have two problems to solve in addressing climate change. First, how to build out the infrastructure that will help decarbonize travel and, second, how to make transportation infrastructure resilient to a changing climate. With some of the world's most innovative road and bridge engineering and planning expertise, and access to important and actionable data, FHWA is the perfect place to lead on solving this more broadly defined set of transportation challenges.

I look forward to helping to ensure that America has a 21st-century transportation system that works for, and is safe for, everyone. This will be a new era with new opportunities for the agency and, together, we will continue to lead even as we face new challenges.

Stephanie Pollack is FHWA's Acting Administrator.