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Federal Highway Deputy Administrator Richard Capka
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Project Management -- National Study Results Conference
April 27, 2004, Miami, Florida.

I want to thank all the practitioners who invested their time and knowledge making site visits . . . and who are spending their limited time and travel resources to come here to share ideas and best practices.

Transportation moves the American economy. Our economy is on the move because President Bush's jobs and growth plan is working.

  • Job creation is accelerating -- 308,000 new jobs last month alone.

  • Economic growth in the second half of 2003 was the fastest in nearly 20 years.

  • Home ownership rates are at the highest level ever.

Because transportation is fundamental to the underlying strength of our economy, it is very high on the national policy agenda.

  • Surface transportation reauthorization is before Congress right now and I hope we will have a bill -- a six-year bill -- very soon.

I know that transportation is the best investment we can make to bring prosperity -- new jobs -- to cities and states. The projects you are working on back home are vital to the economic health and quality of life in each of your communities.


Mega-projects and project management are at the top of my agenda at Federal Highways. Administrator Peters asked me to make them a key area of concentration as Deputy Administrator.

Approaching a mega-project or any large project for the first time is like the situation Sheriff Brody (played by actor Roy Scheider) finds himself in the movie "Jaws." The sheriff, like all those who have the responsibility for delivering a major project, has a tough mission. He must capture or kill the Great White Shark that is terrorizing his resort community.

The town depends on his skill and talent. Although he has yet to see the shark, he knows he faces a complex challenge.

Brody assembles a team of experts -- an experienced and rugged shark hunter and a marine scientist of international renown. Together, they load the boat with the best equipment, the best intentions, a whole lot of confidence, and high expectations. And then, they come face to face with the Great White for the first time.

Shocked and absolutely stunned at the size of the "mega" shark and the magnitude of the actual "mega task" (the shark tries to eat the boat) . . . Sheriff Brody reassesses the situation with the oft-quoted line, "We're going to need a bigger boat."

Learning that you underestimated the magnitude of the task after the boat has set sail is the wrong time to make such a discovery. Yet, that is often the case with our transportation mega-projects.


Mega projects are a different breed. They are not regular highway projects on a grander scale. Planning for a mega-project must be different if a highway agency expects to achieve success.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines mega- projects as major infrastructure projects that cost more than $1 billion, or projects approaching $1 billion that attract a high level of public attention or political interest. Seventeen projects are on FHWA's active mega-projects list and the number is expected to grow to 20 during 2004.

In its 2001 report Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Transportation, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) noted, "projects to improve or expand highways can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and pose significant management and logistical challenges." Those challenges led GAO to recommend that FHWA improve the management of large-dollar highway projects through more accurate cost estimates and closer tracking of project progress.

We adopted those recommendations.

Lessons learned from experiences on mega projects have shown that a hallmark of successful projects (of all sizes) is a comprehensive project management plan that serves as a roadmap for the long journey from start to finish. This roadmap is key to on time delivery, within budget, and with high marks from the traveling public.

Never forget, it is a public journey. Success requires an intense focus on maintaining public trust and confidence throughout the life of the project. In fact, public trust and confidence may be the most important measure of success for any major project.

The public focuses on the transportation community and draws conclusions, deserved or undeserved, about our competence based on their perception of project success. Public trust and confidence in the transportation sector as a whole often lies in the balance.

We have to use skills that are not our strong suit. We have to communicate our plans. We must keep the public informed about road closings, detours, timetables . . . we have to talk to the media. We're doers, not professional communicators, so this doesn't come naturally.


This course and the Project Management Handbook will definitely help us launch our ship -- our projects -- and come back to port successfully. Large projects emerge in different parts of the country and are managed by new teams without previous mega-project experience.

Learning from each other and studying state-of-the-practice materials can fill in gaps in our experience. Intense national scrutiny by the public, media, and government officials is understandable and inevitable. They are keeping an eye on their investment.

Billions of dollars and community mobility are at stake. Successful mega-projects keep our economy moving. That is the biggest reason to maintain the trust and confidence of the taxpayers, the ultimate owners of the nation's roadways. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed."

Thanks for using, improving and sharing best practices. Have a great conference!


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