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Transportation: An “Essential” That Keeps the World Moving Forward

Few things in the world are honestly unique—but this era of coronavirus is perhaps a truly unique time for America. Never before have people, services, products and movements been divided into the “essential” and “non-essential” classifications. Transportation is globally considered an essential, and never has it played a more important role in facing down a worldwide challenge. 

Like most of you, I have attempted to make the most of a challenging situation. I have, jokingly of course, started answering the phone with the question: “Are you an essential or a non-essential?” While I may be essential to the ongoing operation of Floridians for Better Transportation, I am not anywhere close to the esteemed league of those providing life-saving health care, emergency response and law enforcement. Though not often named among those, we should also include transportation professionals who provide, construct, and maintain critical infrastructure services that support all of us 24/7. 

Because transportation is essential, Washington will come back to the discussions of how to deal with infrastructure funding going forward, once this health and economic crisis is past. Below I have included an excerpt from an opinion piece written by Rep. Sam Graves, ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, representing the 6th District of Missouri, and published March 2 in The Hill

Here is what Rep. Graves wrote regarding the six guiding principles:

On the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where I serve as the Republican leader, we all know the recipe for legislative success is through partnership, not partisanship. Historically, our committee succeeds when both sides have a seat at the table in developing legislation. Committee Republicans stand ready to work with our Democratic colleagues to pass a major surface transportation reauthorization bill this year.

With the current surface transportation law, the FAST Act, expiring at the end of September, committee Republicans expect to play a constructive role in new legislation. Any serious effort must include our principles, which reflect a thoughtful approach to this process and not a “wish list” mentality. Here are six principles we will push for:


1. Addressing the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund – This major infrastructure Trust Fund relies largely on the gas and diesel taxes many of us pay at the pump, but with increasing fuel efficiency and increasing use of electric and hybrid vehicles, those critical user fees are decreasing and the Trust Fund regularly teeters on the brink of insolvency. We need to fix this critical issue once and for all.

2. Incorporating innovative developments in technology to improve our infrastructure – Transportation efficiency, safety, the environment, and job creation all stand to benefit from federal policies that increasingly foster development and incorporation of innovative technologies in our infrastructure.

3. Streamlining the project delivery process to maximize available funding – It is a fact that time is money, so we should never stop searching for ways to speed up project review and delivery processes in ways that don’t harm the environment. Cutting red tape will save the taxpayers money and allow us to stretch our limited resources further. A longer process does not guarantee any more environmental protection, and inefficiencies in the process may end up doing more harm.

4. Addressing the infrastructure needs of America’s rural communities – 71 percent of U.S. public road lane-mileage is in rural America. Any increased investment in federal infrastructure funding must ensure that small and rural communities are getting a fair shake and are not being left behind in rebuilding our national transportation network.

5. Prioritizing core programs and functions of our existing federal surface transportation programs – Fixing and improving the nation’s core system of highways and bridges, and facilitating interstate commerce and the movement of freight and people, are critical to the safety and efficiency of the surface transportation network and should not be jeopardized. Every new program created by the government dilutes the essential functions of the core programs, and the very transportation system itself.

6. Ensuring state flexibility – Every state has its own unique infrastructure needs, and it knows them better than Washington bureaucrats. Top-down mandates frequently force a solution that that may work for one state but not another where it doesn’t make sense. States, in partnership with their local partners, know best how to prioritize and address their individual needs and must have the flexibility to do that.

Committee Republicans will not agree with all the infrastructure principles released by the House majority, and I don’t expect them to agree with all of ours. But any serious effort toward enacting infrastructure legislation must meet somewhere in the middle to build bipartisan consensus.

Partisan posturing on infrastructure will get us nowhere. On this committee, we all know the recipe for success in addressing America’s infrastructure needs is through partnership, so let’s get to work.

This is important information worth sharing with your colleagues as we await opportunities to effectively weigh in with our Florida delegation and other leading members of Congress. Remember, September marks the expiration of the current transportation law—the FAST Act. We will all need to work to support efforts to pass meaningful, long-term funding reauthorization for surface transportation and these principles form a great platform.


The Virtues of a Controlled Burn

During a recent M-Cores task team, hearing a gentleman stood up to question the impacts of proposed new corridors on the age-old practice of controlled burning. It was a provocative proposition.

The current restrictions wrought by the coronavirus have made us all look at our lives from a different perspective. In doing so, it makes me think that it is the perfect time for a “controlled burn” of my personal spaces and of my business operations!


With the entire nation in a cloistered state, it seems the time is right to look introspectively at the “underbrush” that we tolerate in our businesses and personal lives that stifles effectiveness, diminishes efficiency and engenders stress.


Let’s begin with the smartphone that is the lifeline of our connected world. How many apps are on the phone that you have never or rarely used? How many voicemails live in perpetuity on that little device? When is the last time you purged the contact information to delete those who retired or changed jobs years ago? An overloaded smartphone can be slow and let you down when you need it most.

In our daily business operations, it is easy to simply add new layers without deleting old protocols or technology platforms. How much does that lengthen the time required to deliver a project or to comply with company rules or regulations? A simple task such as updating a mailing/distribution list, left undone, can lead to throwing away money and diminishing results. 

The coronavirus has presented an unprecedented nationwide paralysis that will have long-reaching social, business, economic and environmental impacts on our lives. On the other hand, it has gifted us with the unique opportunity to use this time to examine our personal and professional worlds and to clear the cluttered “underbrush” that exists there. The resulting “controlled burn” is long overdue and should soon yield a refreshed less stressful world to return to once the crisis is past.

For Release 3-20-20

Sally Patrenos, President, Floridians for Better Transportation


Love Windshield Wipers, Railroad Crossing Gates, Maritime Navigation Systems? Then thank the Ladies!

March is Women’s History 

Rebecca Lukens, Martha Coston, Mary Riggins, Bessie Coleman…do these names sound familiar? Transportation has long been a male dominated industry, so you can be forgiven for not recognizing these female pioneers of the industry. Many of the inventions which make transportation safer and more efficient today are attributable to smart, innovative and brave women throughout American history. March is Women’s History Month, so it is a good time to recognize 170 years of amazing contributions! 

In the sixties there was a popular expression--“You’ve come a long way baby!”—which was shouted when a woman exhibited traits of liberation from the past. Today that would be an appropriate reference to women who have literally come from a mid-19th century world where mobility meant walking, riding on horses or in carriages, or crossing the seas in a steam ship to one where females pilot jets, walk in space, engineer high speed trains and drive smart cars. 

During the 1800s a number of major inventions came about that changed transportation. Rebecca Lukens took over the Brandywine Iron Works in 1825, and her company started producing the iron for hulls of ships, locomotives and the rails for tracks. By 1859 Martha Coston had developed a maritime navigation system using burning flares for naval rescue and communications in America and Europe. 

Women have vastly impacted the rail industry.  Mary Riggins invented the railway crossing gates that are still saving lives today. Mary Walton came up with a noise reduction system that forever changed the lives of those New Yorkers living near elevated rail systems. She also invented an emissions reduction methodology for smoke stacks in 1879 that improved air quality. Let’s not forget Eliza Murfey, who patented a lubricating system for railroad car axles that greatly reduced derailments, making that mode of travel much safer. 

The first American automobile (aka “horseless carriage”) was developed in 1893, so one might indeed say that “necessity is the mother of invention” as over 175 patents relating to automobiles, traffic signals and turn indicators were granted to women over the ensuing 30 years. 

Who among us has not been caught in a torrential downpour on the highway and taken for granted those phenomenal windshield wipers that keep us moving! Mary Anderson invented those windshield wipers in 1903. 20th century pioneers such as Harriet Quimby (first woman pilot), Amelia Earhart (first to pilot across the ocean), and Sally Ride (first American woman in space) are no less admirable. 

Women have shown a stronger presence in all forms of transportation today, but they are still filling a limited space in technology. Only 8 percent of the more than 60 million women in the American labor force are engineers and only 30 percent are natural scientists (geologists and chemists)—the mainstay professions of the transportation industry.   Let’s celebrate all their contributions to the industry and the economy during the month of March!


Sally Patrenos, President of Floridians for Better Transportation, has over 24 years’ experience in leadership roles in transportation policy development and implementation, serving in roles including Administrator of Intergovernmental Affairs at FDOT, Director of the Florida Transportation Commission and CEO of Patrenos & Associates consulting firm.