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Trump’s transportation transition leader loves building roads

He’s an “asphalt industry lobbyist”

The 405 Freeway in Los Angeles
Photo by Atwater Village Newbie

Ever since President-elect Donald Trump promised in his victory speech to “rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none,” advocates remained hopeful that what he really meant was lots of public transit, too. His choice to lead his transportation transition might reveal his true intentions: A road lobbyist.

The list of people being considered by the incoming President for cabinet positions and transition teams contains few surprises (and even fewer women and people of color). But what’s shocking for someone who campaigned against lobbyists—or maybe not that shocking, since this is Trump we’re talking about—is how many lobbyists are on the list.

Including transportation transition leader Martin Whitmer, who has lobbied for the National Asphalt Paving Association, the Association of American Railroads, and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. Whitmer, who was also appointed deputy chief of staff of the USDOT in 2003, has been heralded as an expert on “surface transportation policy”—which translates to being good at building lots and lots of highways. In fact, according to his website, Whitmer’s firm worked with trade organizations on the passage of the $305 billion FAST Act of 2015, which has been widely criticized for pumping too much money into roads and not enough into transit.

Here’s another disconcerting achievement. According to its website, Whitmer’s firm “worked with the leading railroad trade association to extend the deadline for Positive Train Control (PTC).” If that deadline had not been extended, PTC would have likely prevented two recent train crashes.

In a year when Americans have driven more miles, consumed more gas, and created more climate-destroying emissions than any other moment in history, the idea that we might continue to promote a car-centric, highway-widening transportation policy is frightening. This would be a striking departure from the work of current Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who has openly advocated for pumping money into transit projects—not highway projects—to build healthy, equitable communities.

If you’d like a more positive spin on this announcement, here are a few thoughts. One: Buses and other forms of shared transit also use roads—as do bikes!—so it’s good to have someone who knows what they’re doing to maintain the ones we have. Two: If we do get a big overhaul of our highways, this could be an opportunity to build better infrastructure for autonomous trucks and electric vehicles (although the fate of EVs is somewhat uncertain due to Trump’s embrace of fossil fuel industries).

As Curbed’s own Patrick Sisson argued yesterday, Trump is a New Yorker, and surely understands the importance of a vibrant, multimodal city. Still, plenty are warning that this administration will spell nothing but doom for public transportation. Streetsblog puts it bluntly: “Democrats Who Embrace the Trump Infrastructure Plan Are Suckers.”