Driving transportation solutions that improve lives

February 18, 2022

Maurice A. Henderson II, ’97, champions the development of eco-friendly, equitable transit and transportation infrastructure 

Improving people’s lives, especially the lives of the underserved, drives Maurice A. Henderson II, ’97. To that end, he has worked on political campaigns, for government agencies, and in the transportation industry. Today, he works mere feet from the office of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in Washington, D.C.

Henderson joined the U.S. Department of Transportation as a senior advisor in January 2021. Now, meetings with mayors, governors, and members of chambers of commerce and community groups fill his days.

Discussions often center on the opportunities presented by the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law Nov. 15, 2021. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorizes some $280.5 billion in new spending to improve the nation’s outdated, deteriorating transportation infrastructure.

“The transportation ecosystem in this nation is truly one of the great investments in human history,” Henderson said, “but it has also detrimentally impacted underserved, under-resourced, and overburdened communities. The infrastructure bill gives us tools to address some past grievances and make transportation more robust, resilient, and accessible for everyone.”

Examples of that past were on display during a recent visit to Richmond, Va., where he toured the historically Black neighborhood of Jackson Ward with Sec. Buttigieg, Gov. Ralph Northam, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, U.S. Reps. Donald McEachin and Abigail Spanberger, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. In the mid-1950s, the thriving neighborhood was split in two and lost more than 1,000 homes with the construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike.

“We visited Jackson Ward to get an understanding of how the interstate highway system disconnected and destroyed so much of the vibrancy of this Black community,” Henderson said. “Similar stories of the disruption of communities of color are everywhere across the country, from Portland, Ore., to Minneapolis-St. Paul, to Syracuse, N.Y., to New Orleans.

“With hope as the wind at our back, we are focused on providing opportunities for communities like these through the infrastructure bill and other grant programs.”

Henderson grappled with historical inequities and their possible solutions in many of his undergraduate classes at University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

“My take-away from Jepson was a reinforcing of ethical values I hold dear, the ability to learn from new data points, and the desire to seek diverse opinions—including those I don’t agree with—in order to achieve better policy and program outcomes,” the alumnus said.

In addition to his education, his professional experience prepared him for his current role. He held senior leadership positions in the private and public transportation sector in the six years prior to joining the Biden administration. His work largely focused on public transportation and on alternatives to vehicular transportation, such as electric scooters and bicycles.

No stranger to politics, Henderson served as manager and communications director on numerous political campaigns and from 2006-07 was deputy press secretary for then-Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, now a U.S. senator.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, he participated in a transportation fact-finding trip to Europe organized by then-U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. Buttigieg, then the mayor of South Bend, Ind., also participated.

“We were probably the two youngest people on the trip not staffing Foxx,” Henderson laughed. “We’ve been friends ever since. It’s truly an honor to serve in this administration now.

“All of my experiences have guided me to seek better outcomes for people, especially those traditionally left behind. From an equity, climate, and economic perspective, the transportation sector touches everyone. Working in this space can be truly democratizing.”