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Trottenberg brings freight policy experience to DOT

Biden’s pick for deputy DOT secretary will be valuable resource for Pete Buttigieg, former DOT secretary tells FreightWaves

Trottenberg familiar with the DOT landscape. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves & Biden transition).

Polly Trottenberg, Joe Biden’s pick for deputy secretary of transportation in the incoming administration, will likely be a valuable resource for a Department of Transportation (DOT) secretary nominee lacking experience on major freight policy initiatives.

Trottenberg, who was named to fill the deputy position on Monday, previously served in the Obama-Biden DOT, first as the assistant secretary for transportation policy and undersecretary for policy. She testified several times on Capitol Hill from 2011 to 2013 on the need to rebuild the country’s roads and bridges and on shoring up the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for freight programs administered by DOT.

“In this time of severe budgetary challenges, ultimately we need to find political consensus on how to sustainably fund surface transportation over the long term,” Trottenberg testified in 2013. “It will not be easy.”

Mary Peters, who was the secretary of transportation under President George W. Bush, said Trottenberg will play a pivotal role at DOT.

“The way I ran my department – and I don’t think I was unique in this – the deputy secretary spent about 80% of their time on operational and tactical issues – basically serving as the department’s chief operating officer,” Peters told FreightWaves, “whereas most of my time was spent on strategy.”

Peters worked with Trottenberg when she was advising U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer on transportation policy. She thinks Trottenberg can complement DOT secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg, who as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, dealt more with municipal and passenger transit issues than with freight.

“Based on Polly’s experience on Capitol Hill and with her policy experience at DOT, where she had broad range of responsibilities including motor carrier issues and commercial trucking policy, I think she brings a strong background to the department that will help Pete Buttigieg in those areas that he’s not as familiar with,” Peters said.

“The deputy secretary ultimately has as much influence and authority as the secretary wants him or her to have,” James Burnley, former transportation secretary under President Ronald Reagan, told FreightWaves. “[Trottenberg] has extensive experience at DOT and in the ways of the department and a well-rounded resume that’s very well suited for the position.”

Trottenberg served for the last seven years as transportation commissioner of New York City, a 5,800-person agency that operates the city’s transportation roadways, bridges, traffic and parking systems. She helped implement the nation’s first Vision Zero program, “taking a multidisciplinary approach to eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries,” according to the Biden transition team. She also led the city’s COVID-19 response and recovery, the transition noted, “transforming streets to promote sustainable transportation and economic recovery.”

ITS America, which lobbies on behalf of intelligent transportation systems, said Trottenberg understands how technology is key to safe roads, improving congestion and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“We look forward to working with her, Secretary-designate Buttigieg and the DOT team to move toward ITS America’s vision of a better future transformed by intelligent mobility – one that is safer, greener and smarter,” said ITS America President and CEO Shailen Bhatt.

Trottenberg’s selection received labor support as well, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“She knows how to prioritize our infrastructure needs so the country can better serve the more than 700,000 Teamsters who work across the industry as well as all Americans who use the nation’s roads, rails and airports,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “The Teamsters are confident she will hit the ground running and will help direct a much-needed major overhaul of U.S. transportation networks.”

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.