Remarks from Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters at AGC Midyear Meeting
AGC Midyear Meeting, Highway and Transportation Contractors Division
October 1, 2004, Phoenix, Arizona
I want to talk to you about the future of our industry.
That great philosopher and ballplayer, Yogi Berra, once said, "If you continue to do what you've always done, you'll continue to get what you've always got." Albert Einstein covered much the same ground when he said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Well, together, we're doing new things and, as a result, getting, different and better results.
If we just let nature take its course, we'd probably have everyone using innovative construction practices - in ten or twenty years. But we can't afford to take it that slow.
Highways for LIFE
We've got to leap, not creep, and that phrase is a good description for why we need Highways for LIFE.
FHWA proposed the Highways for LIFE (HfL) pilot program to build highways and bridges safer, faster and better. LIFE is an acronym for Long Lasting, Innovative Fast Construction of Efficient and Safe Highway Infrastructure. The HfL pilot program involves incentives for construction projects, partnerships with industry, extensive technology transfer, education, training, and communication initiatives.
Highway for LIFE supports key FHWA goals of improving safety, reducing congestion due to construction, and raising the quality of highway infrastructure. Together with state and local governments and with industry, we want to accelerate the movement of proven innovations into routine practice - to bring about that leap forward in highway construction practices.
We've been talking about Highways for LIFE for a year and a half. I talked about it when I spoke to your committee during the AGC Annual Convention in March.
Although we are still waiting for Congress to enact a multi-year reauthorization for surface transportation, there is much we are doing to prepare the way. We have received so much encouragement from you and other partners that we believe now is the time to identify technologies and innovations and to share success stories.
So we're beginning the "Getting Started" phase.
Getting Started/Core Messages
There are three core messages to Highways for LIFE as we "Get Started."
Leadership - Our highway system is at a crossroads. Leadership and action are needed now.
Innovations - Taking advantage of innovations that are already out there is the key.
Benefits - We can build highways faster, safer, longer lasting, and at less cost. We must get more value for every transportation dollar.
Perhaps you saw the May/June edition of PUBLIC ROADS magazine. When we started researching that issue, we wanted to find a few examples of projects and practices directly aligned with HfL principles. Within two days, we had more than 35 projects in almost as many states. And that was by no means a comprehensive list.
At the Highway 67/167 construction site in North Little, Rock, Arkansas (where I visited in June), the contractor is using high strength, longer-lasting concrete and special, weather-resistant bridge steel that won't need painting for 50 years.
The new Wilson Bridge on the Washington beltway demonstrates a host of innovations including prefabricated pavement and pre-cast concrete boxes for bridge supports.
You may have heard about the market-ready technologies these innovative projects represent. There are 28 specific technologies that we feel are most important, and we want to move those first. Among them are Load and Resistance Factor Design and Rating of Structures, Quick Zone software for estimating and analyzing length of lines and delays in work zones, and Prefabricated Bridge Elements and Systems.
It's one thing to say, "Leap, not creep." It's another to come up with ways of enhancing the process of technology delivery. We've developing a plan for delivering technologies through marketing, presentations, training, and other means. Talking about technology transfer is nothing new. What's different is that it's not just a project here and there, but on every project.
We have asked our Divisions to take an active roll in working with states DOTs and with you to bring these opportunities to reality. We have a small team in Washington DC that is leading the Highways for LIFE initiative. They are committed to making a difference.
Stakeholder involvement is absolutely critical. Highways for LIFE is something we want to do WITH highway stakeholders, not TO them.
Federal Highways does not build bridges and highways. But we have a leadership role as we encourage the highway community.
AGC is a big part of that community. You build the infrastructure. You capture the innovation and make it real. AGC members have a lot to gain - you can be more productive, manage your resources better, even improve profits.
I want to touch on two issues that are closely interrelated with HfL and are of crucial importance.
Environmental Streamlining & Stewardship
- We are making progress
- Median time for an EIS going down.
- FHWA continues to work with resource agencies at the national and field level to develop programmatic agreements and policies that are respectful of both environment and transportation missions.
- Hard work throughout the transportation community is starting to pay off.
- Slight but encouraging reduction from 2002 total and an all-time low fatality rate of 1.48 per hundred million VMT in 2003.
- Federal Highways will provide extra resources to 16 "Opportunity States."
- These states are in the top half by total fatalities, and have a fatality rate that is above the national average or the fatality rate trend line is worse than the national average.
Federal Highways values our close and productive working relationship with AGC. We appreciate the important role your Association plays as we work together in partnership to meet transportation needs across the country.
Before I close, I need to address the "biggest uncertainty" - reauthorization of surface transportation legislation.
I can't talk about reauthorization without thanking AGC (and CEO Stephen Sandherr) for standing by the Administration during these many months.
This is a critical time for long-term reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs. It is critical, not just for those in the transportation sector, but to the economy as a whole.
The situation is compounded by the fact that Congress is wrestling with appropriations for fiscal year 2005, which begins today, and with high profile issues such as intelligence reform. We need a multi-year bill - one that allows states and local communities to make long-term investment plans.
The Bush Administration's bill gives communities flexibility - more say over where their highway and transit dollars go. Critical investment decisions should not be dictated from Washington, D.C.
Earmarked projects and programs tie the hands of state and local officials. Instead, we need to empower local leaders to address local transportation needs.
Our bill will allow states to better leverage their transportation dollars by taking advantage of innovative financing, such as private activity bonds, and other public-private partnership options. For decades, FHWA has encouraged increased private sector participation in the project planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of highways and bridges. The private sector has expertise that can bring innovation, flexibility, and efficiencies to certain types of projects, especially large-scale projects.
The bill also supports expansion of environmental streamlining.
SAFETEA is designed to encourage this kind of bold thinking so we have a transportation network that will keep the American economy moving.
I thought I'd wrap up with another transportation-related quote from that great sage Yogi Berra.
Yogi said, "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."
We have a map and a plan.
With leadership, a new surface transportation act, and the support of strong groups such as AGC, highway innovation will leap into nearly every project very, very soon.