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DoT's Foxx outlines future traffic problems at Google

Anthony Foxx, US Secretary of Transportation, visited Google for a chat with Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and to unveil Beyond Traffic 2045, a new study into US transport.

DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx at Google
DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt arrive at the Googleplex in a self-driving car. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California -- Getting out of a Google-designed autonomous car in front of the famed Googleplex here, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx described the technology as "incredible." What might seem run-of-the-mill in the San Francisco Bay Area these days impressed the high-ranking Washington politico.

But Foxx wasn't at Google to ride in autonomous cars -- he took the opportunity to unveil a new study by the DoT called Beyond Traffic 2045. In a handout, the DoT described the study as a "blue paper," not a blueprint, asking crucial questions about the future of transportation in the US.

The study points out that the US population is likely to grow by 70 million, up to 390 million, by 2045. Seventy-five percent of the population will live in "megaregions," creating Los Angeles-type traffic congestion in places like Omaha.

DOT Secretary Anthony Fox at Google
Secretary Foxx presents the Beyond Traffic 2045 study at Google. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

To solve future transportation hurdles, the study brings up technologies such as connected vehicles, automated transportation and even the NextGen initiative to update the country's air traffic control system.

During a talk with Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Foxx pointed out that the DoT occasionally creates such studies, and this one is focused on how transport will look in the US in 30 years. Foxx said that commercial trucking is expected to increase by 60 percent over the next 30 years, but technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles could reduce that number.

Addressing public transportation, a hot topic at the Google campus, Foxx pointed out that the federal government has little control over what gets built. As an example, he said that cities control individual public transit projects, states build and control their highway systems, and the DoT holds direct control over the Federal Aviation Administration.

The DoT engages in defining best practices for public transit, and pedestrian and bicycle safety infrastructure, which municipalities can use when initiating such projects.

Although Foxx suggested a good working relationship with lawmakers, he pointed out that the Highway Trust Fund, used to help finance state highway projects, will run out of money in May if Congress takes no action. Instead of providing long-term monies to the Fund, Congress has instead passed 32 short-term resolutions in recent years to replenish it. These short-term resolutions make it difficult for state authorities to plan long-term highway infrastructure projects.

Concerning autonomous cars, Foxx admitted that regulation has fallen behind innovation. He believes that government has to be quicker at writing regulatory approval for new technologies, and that the DoT needs be in continual conversation with innovators. However, he also maintained that the "north star of any new tech [under consideration by DoT] must be safety."

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