U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said Carnegie Mellon University is leading the way in automated transportation research on a visit to Pittsburgh Thursday, citing $8.4 million Department of Transportation grants the university received in conjunction with PennDOT.
“Pennsylvania received the largest of the automated driving system’s grants,” Chao said during a Thursday-afternoon speech at CMU. “This demonstration project will study the safe integration of automated driving technology into work zones. That’s so important, because a disproportionate number of roadway workers and first responders are hurt in work zones.”
Chao spoke at an event celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Traffic21, an institute at CMU intended to create an “intelligent transportation system” in the Pittsburgh region.
Chao said new transportation technology like automated vehicles will only grow in the future, though she recognized the public’s distrust of and uncertainty about it.
“That’s why I have urged developers of this great new technology to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security and privacy,” she said. “I’m so pleased that the research conducted by Carnegie Mellon and Traffic21 may help address these concerns.”
Chao said investing in such research is needed “now more than ever, as our country’s economy grows,” citing a low unemployment rate and the creation of millions of new jobs since President Trump (who appointed Chao) took office in 2016.
The continued growth is "great news for our country, great news for workers, and underscores the importance of keeping the momentum going by continuing to improve our country’s transportation infrastructure so more jobs can be created,” she said.
Chao previously served as U.S. Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush administration, and has mostly kept a low profile in a Trump White House known for drama. She has, however, drawn criticism for DOT spending in Kentucky, the home state of her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
One goal of the event, according to a release, was to "highlight the success of the city to date" on developing transportation solutions. Those successes included Pittsburgh being a finalist for the U.S. DOT’s Smart City Challenge.
In the end, the city did not win the challenge, though it did receive $10.9 million from another federal grant to create "Smart Spines." The city is using the money to design corridors where LED traffic lights can usher through public transit and better control traffic. The project is still in the design phase after three years.
“Carnegie Mellon is the research arm for the City of Pittsburgh,” Mayor Bill Peduto said in a press release. “We are confident that the current and next generation of those working with Traffic21 and Metro21 will help us continue our success and ensure our developments improve the lives of every citizen in this city.”