U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao addressed the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce during its Public Policy Luncheon Thursday.
Chao is the first Asian American woman to be appointed to a President’s cabinet and the only Kentuckian appointed since WWII.
“Kentucky has shaped my perspective during discussions in Washington over the administration’s infrastructure initiative. Under the President’s infrastructure proposal, rural America will no longer be left behind.” Chao said.
Chao helped to develop President Trump’s infrastructure proposal, which includes $50 billion in block grants for projects in rural communities.
“This is a high priority with this Administration. And I am glad to say that it has been a high priority in Paducah as well.” Chao referenced local leadership efforts in developing transportation infrastructure in “the Riverport facility [...] is so impressive and well situated for growth.” She said that community and industry leaders have “demonstrated great commitment to the Maritime Administration’s vision to improve the maritime transportation system, including ports, connectors and Marine Highways.”
Chao said that MARAD Administrator Admiral Mark Buzby hails the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport as a model for the rest of the country.
Chao reiterated the 2018 Omnibus included full funding of EAS for Barkley Regional Airport.
She also said she’s looking out for Kentucky’s interest with an additional one billion dollars in FAA funding allocated for the airport improvement program. The proposal has moved on to Congress for approval.
Chao spent much of her time discussing disruptive forms of transportation including autonomous vehicles, drones and hyperloop.
“In this age of intermodalism, it is more important than ever that all the different modes work together to provide a safe and cooperative transportation system for people and for freight.” Chao highlighted three priorities for her department; Safety, infrastructure and “preparing for the future by engaging with emerging technologies.”
On January 10, 2018, Chao said the U.S. “reached a major milestone” with more than 1 million drones registered in the U.S.
“And there has been a significant increase in the number of drone pilots, with more than 75,000 now certified to conduct commercial operations. That’s why the Department has launched a new Drone Pilot program,” Chao said these new jobs help balance concerns that the disruptive effects technology can have on the workforce.
“This program will accelerate the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into our national airspace by creating new partnerships between state and local governments, the Department, and private sector drone operators.” Chao said.
By 2020, Chao said “our national airspace will have over 1 billion travelers/passengers.” How to integrate the increasing drone activity into this airspace, she said “will be a great concern.”