Transportation secretary holds roundtable with community, business leaders

Published 7:29 pm Wednesday, April 16, 2014

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx held a roundtable Wednesday with community and business leaders.

The stop at the Demopolis Higher Education Center is part of the Secretary’s tour across the country to promote investing in infrastructure.

The “Invest in America, Commit to the Future” bus tour has 13 stops in nine states through this week, all ahead of a broad transportation package President Obama is expected to send to Congress this month.

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Foxx said the investments are needed due to a broke Highway Trust Fund that could run out of money by August. If that happens, 700,000 jobs may be lost, and the federal government will slow down or stop payments to states which will delay or shut down projects across the country.

“The trust fund is about to become insolvent,” Foxx said. “We need your help in Washington, encouraging leaders to act on this.”

So far, Foxx’s bus tour has stopped in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. After leaving Demopolis, the secretary was bound for Jackson, Miss.

Community and business leaders also shared some concerns with Foxx about various issues.

“We don’t talk enough about what is happening in rural communities,” Foxx said.

Some issues brought up include freight delays and the need for more trained truck drivers and the possibility of making changes to drivers’ hours of service regulations.

“Hours of service rules aren’t intended to constrain people’s ability to make a living,” said Foxx, but to “keep people on the road safe.”

The Secretary was briefed on various local issues like a partnership with Shelton State Community College to offer truck driving classes in Demopolis.

“We are trying to do something to meet these guy’s needs,” said Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson.

Grayson also talked about the port, which if operational he said would be a “game changer for West Alabama and East Mississippi.”

Kathryn Friday with the Marengo County Economic Development Authority Board spoke about the need to widen Highway 43 to four lanes.

“There is no north-south corridor in the western part of the state,” Friday said.

Foxx said he would take the feedback back with him to Washington.

“You all have a vision. You have put some pieces together here that make a lot of sense,” he said.

After the meeting, Foxx said the conversation in rural areas in a little different than other places he has visited.

“In rural America, folks feel like their projects have been bumped down to the bottom of the list,” he said. “I was so actually inspired by a lot of vision people have. Our job is to help get it done.”

Foxx has served as Secretary of Transportation since July 2013. He was mayor of Charlotte, N.C. from 2009 to 2013.