It’s a happy Friday for transportation wonks: the White House has nominated Polly Trottenberg, executive director of Building America’s Future, as assistant secretary for policy at the federal DOT.

trottenberg.jpgPolly Trottenberg, tapped as assistant DOT secretary (Photo: NewTalk)

Trottenberg’s ascension signals that the Obama administration will make transit a serious priority and encourage a more equitable consideration of urban priorities during debate on the upcoming federal transportation bill. Her dozen years of Senate experience, including stints in the offices of Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), also will prove a valuable asset to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, himself a veteran of the House.

But it’s Trottenberg’s independent analysis of the recent economic stimulus bill that stands out. She joined New York City DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and former New York State DOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn for a series of progressive recommendations for the stimulus plan—some of which, such as the "fix-it-first" requirement for roads and bridges, were left out of the final legislation.

And in a panel discussion at NewTalk, Trottenberg acknowledged that the stimulus bill’s speedy delivery of cash to state DOTs was at odds with the Obama administration’s goal of promoting "green energy":

It appears that we have made some progress in advancing a more transparent and accountable infrastructure policy in the economic stimulus bill, but it’s likely that we will not do much to achieve what should be our ultimate goal—resolving the more fundamental question of what we are trying to accomplish with our federal investments and

targeting the funds accordingly.






For example, President-elect Obama has called for a “green energy” approach to economic recovery, which will focus on projects that reduce energy consumption. However, if you survey the potential list of transportation projects proposed by a number of State Departments of Transportation, it appears likely this legislation will fund billions of dollars in new highway capacity in suburban and exurban areas. These projects will exacerbate auto-dependent development and increase fossil fuel consumption.

It’s too soon to say whether Trottenberg can combat the desire for political expediency that led to some bad transportation decision-making in the name of economic stimulus. Yet her arrival in the Obama administration is certainly good news.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog.

Tagged: usdot

Elana Schor is Streetsblog‘s national reporter, covering federal transportation policy in Washington and nationwide. She has covered Capitol Hill for The Hill, The Guardian, and Talking Points Memo, and lives in Mount Pleasant.