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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  May 28, 2016 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT

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- [voiceover] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. also, by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and, by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. - i'm evan smith, he's a former mayor of charlotte, north carolina, now in year three as the united states secretary of transportation. he's the honorable anthony foxx, this is overheard. let's be honest, so is this about the ability to learn, or is this about the experience of not having been taught properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa and-- you could say that he'd made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. you know, you saw a problem and over time took it on and-- let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you gonna run for president? i think i just got an f from you actually. this is over. (audience cheering and applause)
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mister secretary, welcome. - thank you very much evan. - [evan] an honor to have you here. - it's great to be here. - let me ask you to grade the nation's transportation system don't grade on a curve, i want hard grading like you used to get at davidson, and at nyu law school, i want you to do elite grading here. if you had to assess the health and the well being of the nation's transportation system, what grade would you give it? - well, i think it'd be about a d. - [evan] it'd be a d? - yeah. - you run your department, really? you're a hard self-grader. - well, you know what, there are a lot of reasons why and frankly, none of them have to do with me. - [evan] you inherited it. (audience laughs) is that what it is? yeah, exactly, "i inherited this problem." (anthony laughing) but you own it, so-- - [anthony] i do own it. - what are the reasons that you would give this system a d? - well, there are three basic reasons. one, we are under-investing at a scale that is massive in this country. we have huge infrastructure needs, and we're putting peanuts in place to try to deal with them.
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secondly, in order to deal with these challenges effectively there has to be a very vigorous planning effort. we have to think about how our transportation system evolves and the system we need for the future, not the needs of the past, and there's been a real retrospective view towards transportation for too long, we need to look ahead. and then finally, i think every level of government, this is a place where every level of government has to work in great coordination and we are increasingly seeing fractures in the old way that we've done transportation. we need to perhaps have a new reset. - well let's take those one at a time. so the issue on not investing adequate resources, is the problem that people don't want to invest in transportation, or that we just don't want to spend money period? - i think there's a little bit of both, but i think my experience at the local level was that if you gave people a roster of projects that you were going to do and you told them how much it would cost, and you actually got them done.
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people have pretty good confidence in the government when you actually can do it that way. - but you acknowledge, mister secretary, that transportation spending, while it's important, is not sexy, right? - [anthony] no. - you spend on the military, that's sexy. you spend on public education, that's sexy. you spend on border security, may not be sexy, but from like a political issue, campaign issue standpoint people like to hear, "boots on the ground "we're gonna send money and protect our border." transportation, ehh? - yeah, well, you know what is sexy though? is getting home to your family after a long day at work. or being able to get your kid picked up to take him to his soccer game or something like that. and when people are sitting in teeth-grinding traffic, it really gets their goat, and they say, "well who's supposed to do this?" and they blame government. i think there's a bit of a disconnect, because people don't necessarily connect that problem to the solutions we're talking about. - so they don't like to sit in traffic, and even if they don't have cars they have a stake in the outcome of all this. look, you went and bought bread at the supermarket, how do you think that bread got there, right? we are all connected individually in this country.
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we are all connected to transportation of one form or another. so do you have to make the case, do you need to market better the magnitude of the problem, or the significance of the connection between us and it? - yeah, i've had to do that the entire time i've been in the department. we've taken bus tours, i've met with 100 communities across this country, and we were pushing for a long term highway build, which we finally got congress to pass back in december. but that bill is still a fraction of what we need. we estimate we need about a trillion dollars between now and 2020 to deal with our needs, and the bill put about 300 billion dollars in place for a period of time. - and let's acknowledge, mister secretary, that just like there's not a national election, there are 50 state elections, there's not a national transportation system, per se, as much as there are a collection of other... and so i think that a highway build is a great example. this is like right before pork, right?
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right before individual members of congress saying, "yes, i support the general principle, but where's mine?" "where's ours?" it's hard to get a lot of agreement even within parties on this because everybody wants their little piece of it. - in an earlier era, earmarks would have been able to give a member of congress a basis to say, "i got this in my district and so i'm gonna vote for it." but there are no earmarks any more. and that's, frankly, made it difficult for these bills to pass because members of congress are putting money up, but they don't necessarily know how it's gonna fall into their districts. - how's it going to benefit them? forgetting about their constituents, they want to know... the planning question, the second one, is really interesting to me because you would think that what government would do naturally was look ahead, not look out a year or two years, but look out 10 and 15 and 20 and 50 years. in fact, as you say, government is not particularly good at strategic planning, the kinda strategic planning that happens in a small business.
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government doesn't seem capable of doing that. - no, honestly, the way we're investing transportation dollars at the federal level is very stovepiped, and it's very pre-programmed, and if we were actually thinking about the country we're becoming, we would do it very differently. out of every dollar in the highway trust fund, 80 cents goes into our highway system. and we need highways. but in these increasingly congested communities, the traffic is getting bigger, the lines are getting longer, the travel times are getting longer, and i don't think that's gonna go away. and the only way we can really solve for that today is a multimodal approach, a person integrates transit, even bike paths and pedestrian facilities, all these things give people choices. and our funding mechanisms don't give us those choices. - politically, is it easy to sell bike paths and pedestrian paths and rail or alternatives? they all sound so squishy politically.
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you get these bond issues, or you get people back home and they say, "no, we don't want to do bike paths "we need to build more roads. "we need to augment the roads we build "with private toll roads." people seem resistant to giving up the old way in favor of the new way, for political reasons. - i think that is exactly the problem we have. i see where the country is going, 70 million more people over the next 30 years, 45% more pressure on our freight, volume movements, 65% more trucks on the road, and that is not a recipe for over-congestion-- - but we're not getting more land. it's like 20 pounds of rice in an 18 pound bag, right? we have a problem of shoving all these new people into a system that is already not working. - exactly. i hear arguments that say. "why do we need to have mass transit?" "why should the federal government be investing in that?" well, just imagine if you take 100,000 people who use public transit every day in a highly congested area that's 100,000 trips that are not being taken
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on our roadways, which leaves greater capacity for other things. i think we need to think more holistically about our system. and the fact is, and it sort of dovetails with the third point you made, there are reasons why different areas of government should be collaborating on this problem because the benefit of doing what you just described, as an example, is not just in the transportation universe. 100,000 fewer cars on the road also means the environment is probably better for it. 100,000 fewer cars on the road means people get to work faster, means productivity goes up and therefore the economy benefits. on, and on, and on, right? - yes, no doubt about it. how many workers have i met who tell me that their commute on a train is so much better because they can actually get work done while they're travelling as opposed to having to focus on making sure they don't hit somebody. these things, the multimodal push is something i think is so important for our country, but i'm telling you our federal government funding mechanisms don't recognize that as readily. - i want to ask you about, on that last point, feds is a lotta things, so you have
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the executive branch of which you're a part, but then you have congress. is there a tension in a general sense? we know that there's tension at the moment in this administration between congress and the administration, but is there an issue of the administration having one vision and the congress driving another, and the administration and congress can't (fists collide) kinda come together? - yeah, i think in transportation the challenge is that we just don't have a national vision that everybody agrees on yet. i think the president has asserted great leadership on this issue, helping us think about better inner city passenger rail, even high-speed rail, helping our country think about a multimodal system, but honestly i think a lot of the conversations on capitol hill are 1956 discussions. - they don't have a vision, or at least a vision aligned with the reality of today, and tomorrow. - right, i think that's right. - what about the feds versus the states? i alluded to the fact that we really have 50 different systems, in fact we don't,
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but you certainly have to work with individual legislatures, individual governors, on these problems, and it probably differs, the willingness to work with you all. in a state like texas, where we sit today, the hating-on-government capital of the western world, anything that the feds do we just oppose on principle. probably harder to work here than it might be with new york or california. - here's another place where i think our system is antiquated, we pay for infrastructure on a jurisdictional basis, we have a federal funding formula states get x amount of money, they use that money for transportation purposes, but our economy actually doesn't recognize state boundaries. i come from a city, charlotte, north carolina, that sits about 10 miles north of south carolina, and south carolina, the upper state of south carolina, was part of our economic region. i think we should be thinking more about breaking up some of this jurisdictional focus, and focusing more on where our economy goes, because our transportation assets need to track those lines. - so then in fact, if you're working with north carolina
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to solve the problems of transportation to and from charlotte, you really need to be working with south carolina as much, right? - exactly, and there's almost no incentive built around doing that. - let's stay with rail for a second. there's a lot of discussion of high-speed rail in this country, i'm interested as a traveler, occasionally overseas, and the opportunity to take rail from point to point as opposed to flying. it's a very appealing thing, it saves time, it saves money, and there's a nice experience that you create... why are people so opposed to rail in this country, or seemingly so opposed? why haven't we risen as other places have risen, europe and elsewhere, to make rail part of our lives? - two big reasons. one is that people can't envision it. in so many instances in transportation, when you're putting a new type of asset in place that people don't experience every day, it's hard for them to imagine it until it's actually there. so i think that's part of it. - of course, we've all ridden trains,
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it's not like a train thing as a concept. - but the concept of high-speed rail, i think, is hard for most americans to imagine. they think of a train is a train is a train is a train. but the idea that you can shorten the travel times and be competitive with getting on an airplane or driving in your own car, is something that we haven't really gotten our heads around. the other thing is just the expense, it is expensive, but the payoff is huge in terms of giving people more choices. - and i suspect that a third aspect of this, mister secretary, is eminent domain. often the creation of any of these high-speed rail systems require wading into the property rights fight. moreso than other kinds of transportation. - certainly one of the biggest expenses in building a high-speed rail network is right away, acquisition, which is what you're talking about. - we're not likely to solve this problem any time soon. - well, no, but i do think the country is gonna have city pairs that are connected by high-speed rail. - [evan] you've been an advocate for this. - absolutely, so you're going to see the california piece, you've got some efforts in texas and in florida.
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i think these efforts are going to start a momentum that we'll see happen over a long time. - can i ask you about aviation? how has that system evolved as part of the overall matrix of potential ways to get from point to point, where does that fit into your calculation of where we need to go? - well, i think probably the most innovative thing we're doing in aviation is next-gen. this is a technology that's gonna move us from world war ii radar systems, to 21st century gps. if you think about the way that our airspace is organized, we basically track planes on a five or six second point-by-point basis, so we have to allow much more room between planes to account for variations that may be on the path the plane is flying on. if we can track a plane instantaneously, moment by moment, we can actually have our planes flying closer together and realize a lot more efficiency in our routes. we're already seeing airlines, by virtue of some of our deployments,
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saving millions of dollars on fuel because they're not being tracked around a route, they're actually being able to go much more directly. - and then we as passengers are benefiting because we're getting from place to place more reliably and more quickly. - yes, we think that 48% of the delays you've experienced to this point will be eliminated by next-gen. - so let's talk about city specific innovation in transportation planning and implementation. i think innovation is a word that has almost come to have no meaning, it's such a buzzword, right? but in fact, you're very focused on cities that are willing to think beyond the traditional ways of approaching this kind of a problem. you have a competition, or a challenge out, called the smart city challenge. talk a little bit about that, you've now narrowed 78 different cities that have applied to be part of this program down to seven finalists. what are you intending to see these cities do? - well, let me start by saying that this challenge really comes out of a study
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i asked our department to do to look at our long-term transportation needs. i've talked about some of what we've found, the growth in population, the growth in freight volumes, climate change, there are a lot of issues that we saw. the question that i started to ask later was, "well how do we get our country grappling "with those issues most effectively?" and the smart city challenge is what came out of that. what we've done is basically taken that report and we've asked cities across the country to tell us how they would purport to use technology and innovation to address those issues, to address the population growth they're facing, to address the freight volume increases they're gonna face, to face down climate change and other challenges. and what we got was surprisingly 78 cities submitted applications to us, and that means 78 cities have actually taken the time and the resources to think about this. - and even those that didn't make it as finalists have now at least gone through, as you say, the exercise of redesigning how they think about this stuff.
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and hopefully that will be useful to them. - yes, we intend to work with each of those cities to help them get those plans done. basically, at the end of the day, we're gonna pick one city. it's gonna receive 40 million dollars of federal dollars to implement their plan. we've also got other partners like the vulcan foundation that's putting 10 million dollars on top of that, and several other partnerships that are gonna add value to help them implement their plans. - and so the kinds of ways in which technology, we're not talking about jetsons stuff like pods flying through the air. we are talking about congestion easing, right? we're talking about ways to redirect people from using their traditional methods of getting from point-to-point, to address the environmental consequences of the old ways. - yes, to put it in plain terms, i think we're going from the feather pen, to the computer in transportation. if you think about the fact that we use analytics in transportation to try to figure out why a particular road is congested today,
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and it wasn't congested yesterday, but the possibility the analytics will actually tell us why, and actually give us a range of options for how to solve for that predicatively. i think those are the types of things that technology and innovation are gonna give cities to be able to deal with all this growth-- - so you're not getting any pushback from the states that resist being told what to do by the federal government, this is more of a city relationship with the department and the cities can choose to opt-in or not opt-in to be part of this and they're gonna set their own course, you're not gonna give them direction, they're gonna give you direction. - no, it's their vision. - [evan] and your money. so i alluded earlier to the fact, and you alluded earlier mister secretary, to the fact that you were mayor of charlotte, north carolina so you understand in a broader sense than just transportation, the challenges that big cities in this country have right now. i want to ask you to give us, off line from your secretary role, put back on your mayor hat for a second. how do you think cities in this country are doing? there seems to be so much more tumult in the big cities of this country around race,
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but around a lot of other issues, poverty, and income, and equality, poor access to a quality public education. almost every big problem that we face at the federal level, that we face at the state level, really the rubber hits the road at the city level. can you give us a perspective on how cities are grappling with some of these challenges now? - well, first of all what i would say is that i think a lot of the things that are coming out publicly today have been boiling under the surface for a while, whether it's the criminal justice related issues, whether it's the income and equality, the poverty, they've been hiding in plain sight for a long time and now technology gives us eyes on some of these problems. i think fundamentally the question that is being raised, and i think it's been raised many times over our history, is "how do we actually plan to live together as americans?" if a child grows up in a zip code and statistically
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the likelyhood of that child actually being able to achieve a middle class lifestyle is so stacked against that kid, how can we as americans tolerate that? whether the kid is white, black, or hispanic, or whatever. - well in fact you make an interesting point, it really isn't only about non-white communities, because poverty really there's no racial, if you look at the different metrics of civic health the poor white communities and the poor black and the poor latino communities, have a similar set of problems. - yes, and i think what happens in our politics is that sometimes folks convince us that the problem is someone else who is lacking opportunity, as opposed to the folks that are really needing to have the opportunities bringing themselves together and actually creating a momentum behind everybody getting a shot. and i think that the problem is that too often these communities get pitted against each other.
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- and the reality is that people come all the time from difficult circumstances, you actually came personally grew up in a-- - i was that kid i was talkin' about. - you were that kid, you grew up in a household where your father was absent, you were raised by your mother and grandmother, you were the first in your family to go to college? - no, to integrated schools. - to integrated, you were the first to go to integrated school, you actually come really from the tail end of the last era, do you not? - this is the challenge for all of us in this country to think about what it takes to bring yourself up. it's not always because you're given help by the government or by somebody else, often you have to work. and you, by all accounts, worked enormously hard to make your circumstances better, right? - yeah, and... obviously my life has been an outlier relative to where i started out, but i also know that there were people who i knew going along, coming up, who were every bit as intelligent
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as i was, who had every bit of the talent that i did, who, for whatever reason, they didn't make it as far as i did and-- - why were you able to transcend those circumstances but they were not? - i don't know the precise answer. i think about that sometimes. what i do know is that there was a part of me that i had the mentality that if i was not gonna be successful, it wasn't going to be because of anything i didn't do, whether that was working a little harder, studying a little longer, whatever it was, and i hoped always that things would break my way in life. but i think so many kids get tuned out very early, because they just lose, they feel a sense of futility that work is going to translate into something good. and that's because they're watching their moms or their moms and dads go to work and come home upset because they're not making
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enough money to get things going in the household, and that's real. - and it's a self-perpetuating cycle. i wonder if also, mister secretary, we take for granted that this is true, but it is. there's a distrust of government, there's a distrust of public institutions these days, that if it's not an all-time high, it's pretty high. people look at the world in front of them and they think, "there's really not any way for me "to appeal for help to a system "that might actually be able to give me a way out." what made you think that getting involved with public service or the government was good? and how do we persuade the next generation, the one behind us, that that's something they ought, 'cause i worry that actually we're giving them the wrong signals about the value of public service. - yeah, i think public service is getting, people are getting beat up pretty good, good people are getting beat up in public service. i think, in my case, it literally is the fact that i felt like i had been given a lottery ticket in life
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and it was my responsibility to go back into public service and try to help the next folks along. - [evan] pay it forward. - right, exactly. i think a lot of people are in public service for that type of reason. it's just that on the national scene, we're always looking for a way to get people motivated to do something and you like to think that politics would be about the positive, "i'm for whatever "i'm for you, i'm for this, i'm for that." but a lot of times it turns into a negative, creating an enemy. the unfortunate thing about our politics today is that we have enough enemies around the world. we have people who don't think america is the beacon of light. we have economies that are challenging our workers. we have lots of things going on around us. we as americans have to figure out a way to live together-- - we don't need to create more enemies inside this country. - yeah, exactly, yeah. - and the political system actually does as you say,
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often, and especially at moments of a presidential campaign, devolve into scapegoating of different groups and pointing the fingers, you kind of wonder how you come out of it whole, right? you've been in this job for about two and a half, kind of in your three, july will be the third year that you've been secretary, presumably since the president is only in office for another 10 months or so, you ride it out with him, stay in the job. - yeah, that's what i hope, absolutely. - what are you gonna do after that? - i don't know, maybe come to austin and open up a brisket barbecue place. (audience laughs) - you know what, we have enough, we could use a few more taco trucks actually. but surely you've thought about it, living in washington i'm sure, and working in the federal government and in the administration has been a privilege and an honor and also it's not the easiest, or most pleasant, or highest paying job in the world. perhaps you'd like to go back to north carolina and do something again? - i haven't really spent a lot of time thinking about it. i know that one problem that i really want to continue
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focusing on for the rest of my life is this question of fabric in america and the fact that whether we're white, or black, or hispanic, or asian, or whatever we are, the great thing about this country is that we're all together, and i hope that whatever i'm doing, even in this job i'm in right now, a lotta what i spend my time working on and getting my team to think about, is the way that our highways have actually contributed to some of these divisions in our country. and the fact that we need to be thinking forward, not just about technology but about how the transportation system can create a new fabric for this country where people actually are woven together. so that's what i hope to spend my life doing. that's what i've been trying to do. - you're gonna keep at it even after you're out of this job. - after i'm out of this job, absolutely. - mister secretary thank you for your time today. - thank you. - [evan] great to see you. secretary anthony foxx, thanks very much. (audience applause) - [voiceover] we'd love to have you join us in the studio. visit our website at
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to find invitations to interviews, q and as with our audience of guests, and an archive of past episodes. - this is where i think we really have undersold ourselves as a nation because a lot of these issues are fabric, community fabric, that you're talking about. i think they get dealt with differently if local government is at the, got it's hand on the till, than if the state government does, because you have to live with each other. - [voiceover] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. also, by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and, by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. (soft music)
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