NYC-N.J. Tunnel Advocate Is Confirmed as Pete Buttigieg’s Deputy

  • Biden gains advocate for broad infrastructure plan
  • Some Republicans raise concerns over taxes, rideshare oversight

President Joe Biden, seeking to overcome Republican criticism of his sweeping infrastructure plan, gained a new advocate with Senate confirmation of New York policy veteran Polly Trottenberg to the No. 2 spot at the Transportation Department.

Trottenberg, confirmed Tuesday by a vote of 82-15, will be deputy to Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Ind. mayor. She’ll bring more than 30 years of experience to helping Biden sell his $2.25 trillion infrastructure package.

Biden’s infrastructure plan faces pushback from Republicans and corporations opposed to the tax increases proposed to pay for the plan. Trottenberg, whose nomination was opposed by 15 Republicans, drew criticism over her efforts in New York City to regulate rideshare companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc.

Democrats lauded her support of the long-delayed Gateway rail project to alleviate congestion between New York and New Jersey, as well her focus on clean transportation technologies and making streets safer for multi-modal users, like cyclists and pedestrians.

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Trottenberg’s most recent post was New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Department of Transportation commissioner. She has promised to seek bipartisan solutions for the nation’s transportation needs.

Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Polly Trottenberg listens during a March 3, 2021 Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on her nomination.

“Throughout my career, I always valued the ability to work with colleagues across the aisle,” she said at her nomination hearing on March 3.

Her understanding of transportation issues will help the administration work to get a package across the finish line, said Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

“She’s an honest broker, she’s someone who really understands the policy, and she understands the priorities of this administration,” Regan said.

Trottenberg served on Biden’s transition team, worked in the Obama-era Transportation Department as assistant secretary and under secretary for policy, and spent 12 years working on legislation as a Senate aide for Democrats including Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the current majority leader.

Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday that he talked with Trottenberg “regularly” about Gateway. During her confirmation hearing, Trottenberg agreed to prioritize the rail and tunnel project, calling it a “project of national significance.”

Transit, Safety

Trottenberg, as New York City’s transportation chief for more than six years, focused on eliminating traffic deaths in the city by 2024. She pushed to expand protected bicycle lanes and increase bus lanes. She also lobbied the state to let the city drop its default speed limit to 25 miles per hour and multiply its speed cameras.

Her experience will serve her well as she “takes the fight against needless traffic deaths nationwide,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said.

The city’s roadways recorded their safest year on record in 2018; since then traffic deaths have increased.

Trottenberg’s “nuanced policymaker role” in selling changes to New York’s transportation systems presented her with challenges, Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director for transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, said.

“Ultimately she didn’t always have the license to, or the discretion, I think, to do her job to the fullest,” he said.

Trottenberg said at her confirmation hearing that she focused on providing more mobility during her tenure in the city, including better bus service, expanded cycling, and new e-scooters and cargo bikes. She said those options were possible in New York because they worked in “very close collaboration with local communities and stakeholders” and she plans to do the same at the Transportation Department.

Buttigieg has increasingly talked about alternative modes of transportation and thinking beyond roads and bridges.

The Biden infrastructure package would double transit spending, according to the White House, providing $85 billion to modernize public transportation.

Trottenberg made progress toward improving bus service in New York, Pearlstein said. Nationally, 45% of Americans have no access to public transit, Pearlstein added.

Opposition

Republican critics questioned Trottenberg’s record in New York as well as whether she would support increasing taxes.

Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who voted against Trottenberg in committee and in the full Senate, opposed her because she is willing to increase taxes to pay for unnecessary government spending and put in place climate policies that hurt job availability, according to a spokesperson.

Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who also voted against Trottenberg,criticized her regulation of Uber and Lyft in New York.

“These services almost immediately encountered hostile regulatory environments from big cities,” Cruz said during her confirmation hearing. “Why did you support draconian regulations on Uber and Lyft, and how is that consistent with promoting innovation in transportation?”

Trottenberg responded that the regulations came as those companies dramatically changed the for-hire vehicle market, hurting the taxi industry and causing congestion. She said that didn’t stop them from working together on innovation, including partnering with Lyft on expanding bikeshare.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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