- Briefing Room
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters
I want to thank the Washington Chapter of WTS for inviting me to speak to you today. I know your organization well. In fact, I am one of you!
As I look around this room, it's hard to believe that 25 years ago Washington women in transportation needed to search for other women to talk to. We needed friends and role models to help us figure out how to get established in the industry, as well as how to manage to get the laundry, shopping, and housecleaning done, prepare the meals for the week, make childcare arrangements and entertain friends and family, plus squeeze in some extra hours of work.
And find that quality time for ourselves -- all in that fleeting 48 hours known as the weekend. We were not cutting deals on the greens, or power lunching, or sharing strategies over a game of racquetball.
Today many of us are on the golf course, at the gym, and at the little league and soccer games. We share boardrooms and are often the power brokers . . . and we are still taking care of family responsibilities.
So what has changed? We rose to the challenge. We learned to work smarter, to collaborate and most importantly how to share power (and housework) and in doing so, acquire real power.
Just look around.
The reality is that today WTS is an organization for women and for men. WTS broke the mold for how industry groups exercise their power and influence, using networking, empowerment, collaboration, and most importantly, inclusion.
Most of us look for the best and brightest whether it's to find someone to go to for advice, or for new talent to hire. Gender is not the issue. Qualifications, competence and capability are. Having our say and our place at the table is what's important. As a member of WTS, I am proud of the tradition of networking and empowerment that WTS has nurtured during the past 25 years.
I'd like to spend a little time talking about top priorities for U.S. DOT and FHWA. Secretary Mineta knows transportation and transportation issues. He has not lost sight of the original purpose of the Department -- to ensure a safe, secure, and efficient transportation system for all Americans.
As we calibrated our direction at FHWA, we listened carefully to what our customers told us about where we should focus. We found critical performance gaps we needed to address. Our three must do's are safety, congestion mitigation, and environmental stewardship and streamlining. Security and reauthorization, of course, remain important as well.
We tried to be realistic about our resources and what we could accomplish in the near term, the next three to five years.
FHWA has a dedicated staff working hard to save lives and reduce injuries. Our bottom line is saving lives. It's just that simple.
The U.S. highway system is already among the safest in the world. Our achievements include the steadily decreasing rate of highway fatalities per mile traveled in the United States . . . seat belt use continues to improve nationally from under 50 percent in 1990 to 75 percent today, an all-time high. We work in partnership with NHTSA on safety programs. We all know seat belts save lives!
But the reality is that in 2000, the last year when complete data is available, more than 42,000 Americans lost their lives on our roads. In addition, more than 3 million people were injured, many of them seriously. And the number of fatalities per year has been rising slightly, not declining.
Our safety program at FHWA focuses on the three Es -- engineering, education, and enforcement. We concentrate on infrastructure solutions.
To reduce death and injury, FHWA has targeted three high risk crash types:
Transportation Secretary Mineta considers mobility "one of our greatest freedoms." He says, "Unless we manage highway congestion, our nation will continue to incur economic costs in forgone productivity, wasted fuel, and a reduced quality of life. Strategic expansion of our transportation system capacity is necessary in certain instances to address our existing and growing mobility needs," and I strongly concur with this position.
Unless we can make progress against congestion, the situation will get worse for us as individuals and for our nation as a whole. Congestion and bottlenecks damage air quality and increase energy consumption. They waste significant time and money, and they reduce productivity.
Transit and highways are partners in reducing congestion and I work closely with Jenna Dorn and FTA.
FHWA is focusing our efforts on three areas where we believe we can do the most good in improving reliability and predictability:
Environmental stewardship and streamlining is an important priority for FHWA, for all of U.S. DOT, and for me personally. I'd like to give you some perspective on what we are doing.
Environmental stewardship and environmental streamlining go together, hand-in-glove. We can improve processes to make them more efficient and with less duplication, while being respectful stewards of the environment. We can expedite projects and protect the environment. This is what Congress and much of the nation wants us to do . . . there is enormous frustration with congestion and a desire to have good projects sooner.
There is also a strong sense of valuing our environment. It's a legacy we will leave to our children and our grandchildren
There's been a belief that you're either a good environmental steward or you build transportation projects. I reject that notion. It is not an either/or situation. At DOT we have been working for a long time to strengthen our environmental stewardship ethic. We believe in stewardship and we are getting results. We are moving in the right direction.
When the first President Bush set a national "no-net loss" wetlands policy to stop decades-old cumulative losses, FHWA set a target of 1.5 acres replaced for every acre adversely affected by highway projects. Our recent performance figures show that we are exceeding that target by a substantial margin, providing over two acres of replacement wetland for every acre taken.
To our knowledge, no other public or private entity is setting goals as ambitious as ours or tracking their wetlands performance as we are.
Looking at the human environment, more money has been spent on historic preservation from transportation funds than any other source. Historic preservation often leads to private investment far beyond the transportation investment.
As we look ahead, we see a number of environmental stewardship opportunities to pursue in collaboration with transportation and environmental colleagues.
We are providing funds and staff assistance to the new AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence. Among other things, the Center will promote the use of environmental management systems by transportation agencies, as a systematic way of institutionalizing environmental stewardship.
We have asked our division offices to help establish at least 30 exemplary ecosystem initiatives around the country during the next five years. When we say "exemplary," we are looking for initiatives that raise the bar, that push the boundaries. Endangered species habitat conservation plans fall in this category and so do large scale studies of migration patterns by large mammals and ways to minimize conflicts between the migration of people on the highways and the migration of animals near and across highways.
We have also set a goal that states and our Federal-Lands Highway offices develop integrated approaches to transportation and environmental planning and project development within the next five years . . . as well as supporting "context sensitive solutions." Context sensitive solutions are an effort to get all of the players to work together in an integrated fashion to ensure that transportation decisions are fully respectful of the community and the natural environment.
We have also made notable progress on the streamlining front. From 1999 to 2001 the median time for the environmental review of major projects has decreased by a full year, from five and a half to four and a half years.
I believe this was possible because of collaborative decision making among transportation and environmental agencies at the federal, state and local levels. FHWA has been advancing environmentally sound process efficiencies through inclusion and shared decision making.
Sounds a little like WTS, doesn't it?
A big part of the success we've had and hope to have is due to Cindy Burbank, Associate Administrator, Office of Planning and Environment, and Lucy Garliauskas, who concentrates on environmental streamlining and stewardship.
Lucy was WTS national president (1996-98) and Cindy is a founding member of WTS and last year's Washington chapter woman of the year.
It is important for us to build on our progress.
Streamlining will be one of the focal points of reauthorization and we plan to advance a balanced set of strategies to reinforce stewardship AND promote more efficient and more streamlined decisionmaking.
Some of the ideas discussed during our outreach process are -
Look closely at providing more flexibility in 4(f),
Give state DOTs more authority to move forward quickly with CEs
Establish a strong environmental research program to develop new streamlining and stewardship tools,
Address the constant threat of litigation,
Increase environmental activities that are eligible for funding under highway programs, and,
Give greater weight and consideration for planning decisions as a foundation for project development.
We want to demonstrate that streamlining and stewardship are not either/or propositions. We think environmental streamlining and stewardship can be win/win.
We live in a more dangerous world than any of us contemplated a little more than a year ago. At DOT, we have literally worked day and night since September 11th to prevent terrorists from ever again using our transportation system as a weapon against any American.
The experiences of 9/11 have made us all realize the value of this country, which we tend to take for granted. Our strong transportation system, with many choices, and with highways as the backbone of mobility for both people and freight, is a source of much of this country's strength, both economically and in terms of our own personal freedom.
Everyone in the room should be proud to be part of improving transportation and contributing to the benefits of living in America.
I want the next few years to see FHWA make important contributions to America. To make great strides in saving lives, in relieving congestion, and in completing needed projects while protecting the environment.
That would truly be a great contribution to our nation.