Transport in America is changing rapidly. From all-new high-speed railways to the first commercially viable electric planes, the next ten years promise to revolutionise the way we get around. Much of the groundwork for this era of innovation is currently being laid in Congress, where a number of instrumental bills are making their way through the House with the promise to totally modernize American infrastructure.
The INVEST In America Act, for instance, was passed at the beginning of this month and promises a series of wide-ranging infrastructure reforms worth $715 billion: affecting everything from railroads to bike lanes. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the transportation committee advanced two more pieces of legislation aimed at protecting labor standards in the aviation industry and connecting underserved areas of the country with revolutionary new aircraft.
To get a handle on these exciting new developments, we spoke to someone at the very heart of the transport revolution: Kentucky Congresswoman Sharice Davids. Rep. Davids is a leader in transportation and infrastructure policy, currently serving as Vice-Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as well as sitting on the Small Business Committee. Having earned a law degree from Cornell Law School, she went on to work as a White House fellow in the Department for Transportation under Barack Obama before being elected to represent Kansas’ third district in 2019. At the time of her swearing in, Rep. Davids was one of the first two Native American women to serve in Congress.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, of which you are vice chair, recently introduced the INVEST In America Act, which promises $715 billion worth of infrastructure spending on sectors ranging from wastewater to passenger railways. What do you think is America’s most important infrastructure priority right now and why?
I represent Kansas City, a major intermodal hub for the U.S. – so asking me to pick the most important infrastructure priority is a bit like asking me to choose a favorite child. I’ll talk about what I find most exciting from the INVEST in America Act, and that’s the historic level of investment it includes. There are a lot of smart policy provisions within that, from carbon reduction to strong labor protections, but above all it delivers on the investment our communities have been asking for for decades.
Investing in our infrastructure is how we got out of the Great Depression, and I believe it will again serve our country well as we recover from the economic and public health crises of the last year. We need to think boldly about how we build systems that will lift up all of our communities, urban and rural, and will last so that our grandkids can enjoy them, too. The INVEST Act provides the level of commitment that we need to accomplish that.
You personally introduced the “Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act”, which would set up an interagency working group aimed at promoting air travel links to previously underserved areas. Can you tell us about why this is important to places like your home state of Kansas?
Kansas has a rich history of aviation, particularly in places like Wichita, which been home to companies like Boeing, Spirit AeroSystems, and Cessna. As companies have come and gone, the skilled workforce and necessary structures have remained, making Kansas a turnkey option for aerospace innovators looking to grow. AAM is exactly that—and while the government is not typically known for moving quickly on new technology, this bill would help us get ahead of the curve and ready to welcome innovation.
Additionally – linking rural or suburban and urban areas will be incredibly impactful in Kansas and in my district, in particular. In Kansas City, a ride to the airport could be cut from 45 minutes to 10 or 15, if AAM becomes a reality. And on top of that, it would boost our economy significantly – even the most conservative estimates predict this to be a $1.5 trillion market by 2040. I’m excited that the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act is proceeding through committee and hope to get it across the finish line.
Can you tell us about the new kinds of technology that will go in to developing this Advanced Air Mobility?
Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) is actually a really intriguing technology that’s a part of AAM’s advancement! It’s what will allow these vehicles to operate at lower altitudes, in populated areas, with about as much noise as a riding lawnmower.
I’ve been able to visit with some of the companies working on this exciting technology, and from those conversations I was motivated make sure we are beginning the work now to ensure the government can work alongside industry to ensure its safety and success.
You were also part of a bipartisan group of representatives who championed the “Fair and Open Skies Act”, which aims to clamp down on airlines exploiting ‘flags of convenience’ to avoid labor regulations. What is the importance of this, and how concerned are you that foreign airlines are looking to undercut US safety protocols?
This bill was introduced after the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a foreign carrier permit in 2016 to an Irish airline that was posing as Norwegian company in order to participate in U.S. markets—using a so-called “flag of convenience.” That way, they could avoid regulations and labor standards that the U.S. and Norway uphold to keep passengers and workers safe.
This bipartisan bill prevents U.S. DOT from issuing permits to airlines who seek to game the system in this way. The bottom line is that foreign airlines serving the United States must play by our rules, including fair labor standards and competition requirements. It’s an important policy to ensure our airline industry remains competitive and our passengers to fly safely.
Finally, President Biden has said that he is committed to lowering the United States’ carbon emissions by between 50 and 52 per cent by 2030. What role do you envision for the transport sector in tackling the climate crisis?
I believe we all have a role to play in tackling the climate crisis, and one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions is transportation. The INVEST in America Act lays out a number of ways to reduce emissions, invest in clean fuel infrastructure, and make smart, sustainable choices as we rebuild. That includes things like strengthening our country’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure and continuing research on blended and alternative aviation fuels.
Another example is a bill that I introduced, which was included in the larger INVEST Act, the Resilient Repairs Act. It encourages the U.S. DOT to repair chronically damaged federal roads and bridges with resiliency in mind, mitigating the effects of extreme weather events. Working together, being smart about how we invest in transportation – that’s how we will reach President Biden’s goal and help leave behind a better planet for future generations.