Public transportation officials—emphasizing transit’s role in economic development, sustainability and natural-disaster response—are pushing back against a White House proposal to cut $2.4 billion out of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation budget, including phasing out capital grants and the TIGER program.

Also pondering how disruptive technologies such as Uber will affect the role of trains and buses, the industry is evolving toward an identity of providing overall mobility. “We need to think about moving people and goods and services, not cars and trucks and buses,” said Roger Millar, Washington State Dept. of Transportation secretary.

“We need to think about moving people and goods and services, not cars and trucks and buses.”

– Roger Millar, WashDOT Secretary

Dick White, acting president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, noted that the American Society of Civil Engineers rated U.S. transit infrastructure a D+. APTA estimates that $100 billion is needed to bring it into a state of good repair, White told reporters at a press conference during APTA’s annual meeting and exposition, held in Atlanta this month.

Nat Ford, CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, noted that, after the city was hit by Hurricane Nate, the agency evacuated 600 people and, since then, has been transporting relief workers. “We are looking at automated vehicles as an opportunity to be more efficient and responsive to customer needs,” he added.

Keith Parker, general manager and CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), suggested that the system, traditionally unsupported by the state and until recently a constant loser in ballot initiatives for funding, is now a key player in economic development.

Parker recalled that, not long after he took the job five years ago, he got a call from Georgia’s economic development director: Mercedes-Benz was considering moving its headquarters to Atlanta. “They needed MARTA to make the deal work,” he said. “Everything has been different since,” with millions of dollars of corporate investment in transit-oriented development invested in Atlanta.

Further, private investors are putting a stake into high-speed rail—in Texas.

Travis Kelly, vice president of external affairs for Texas Central Partners LLC, told attendees that a draft EIS is imminent for a 240-mile system between Dallas and Houston. The Japanese-manufactured trains would run up to 200 mph between three stations, he said. The company already has acquired 30% of the rights-of-way.

Another hot topic was the Hyperloop, a project that aims to partner with high-speed rail and other transit, said Dan Katz, counsel for Hyperloop One. A recent test of the low-pressure-tube electromagnetic propulsion system reached a 192-mph top speed on a 300-meter-long guideway.

“We intend to complement” a multimodal network, Katz said.