U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Over the past year, I have taken the opportunity to meet with tribal leaders and transportation specialists from tribes in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In addition, FHWA staff has met with tribal governments and traveled to Alaska villages in an effort to see first hand the challenges that tribes face in transportation. These visits will help us to better serve the needs of tribes around the country.
As FHWA Administrator Mary Peters and I have said so often: “Every man, woman, and child has the right to expect a safe, accessible, affordable and reliable transportation system. People living in rural areas and on Indian land should have the same quality of roads and bridges -- of transportation infrastructure -- as people living in urban areas.”
Clearly that’s not an easy task and tribal governments, like state and local governments, have a wide range of transportation needs and limited resources with which to meet those needs. Knowing these needs and knowing that there are new regulations for the Indian Reservation Roads program (IRR), this is a crucial time for tribal transportation. Whether it is a direct service tribe working closely with BIA, or a tribal government working to establish a transportation department and program, there is much work to be done.
FHWA’s role is to support your efforts -- we will continue to work with tribal governments, continue to work with our partners at BIA, and to continue to support partnership opportunities among tribes, states, and federal agencies.
This is a critical time, not just for those in the transportation sector, but to the economy as a whole. We have had six extensions so far since TEA-21 expired a little more than a year ago. The latest extension – STEA 04-Part V – will keep the highway program running through May of 2005. Although we would hope to the contrary, it is unlikely that a multi-year bill will be completed in the near future.
Congress spent its last days before the election recess wrestling with FY05 appropriation actions, and with high profile issues such as intelligence reform and emergency relief. Whether or not a multi-year bill can be accomplished in a lame duck session later this year, or must wait until the 109th Congress, can’t be predicted at this time.
We do 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 (and tribal 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 bill also supports expansion of environmental streamlining -- that means speeding the process that leads to a yes or no decision on a project. Transportation moves the U.S. economy. We need reauthorization to keep us on the right track.
The U.S. highway system is already among the safest in the world. Safety belt use continues to improve nationally from under 50 percent in 1990 to above 90 percent in some states. Much more attention is paid to drunk and drugged driving.
And yet, one of the most telling statistics I’ve seen in quite a while was in your invitation to this conference. Quoting a report from our sister agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration . . . “From 1975 to 2002, the number of fatal motor vehicle crashes that occurred within Indian reservations increased by 52.5 percent, compared to a decrease of 2.2 percent in the number of fatal crashes in the nation at large.”
Transportation safety has been getting a lot of attention from tribal governments -- some good things are happening.
FHWA has approved funding for a full-time position at the Northern Plains TTAP Center, to focus on delivering safety technical information and training to tribal members within the Northern Plains area.
The "2004 Native American Transportation Safety Conference" was hosted by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe in May. Sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), FHWA, NHTSA, and Northwest and Alaska Tribal Associations and TTAP (Tribal Technical Assistance Program) centers, this three-day conference focused on Data Management, Law Enforcement, Planning, and Engineering aspects of highway safety.
FHWA and BIA are in the beginning stages of planning a national tribal safety summit in 2005.
In addition, FHWA sponsored a study in Arizona on the development of a model Tribal Highway Safety Improvement Program and we are funding a second phase of this project with the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona.
Wisconsin DOT is working on a traffic record training project for tribes. Later today in the safety track, Sherman Wright of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe will explain their Tribal Traffic Records System.
And at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, in the elected officials track, Rudy Umbs, Chief Federal Highway Safety Engineer, will go into more detail on programs and resources that can help you save lives.
It is so important that we talk with each other and learn from each other.
FHWA has funded a project as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program’s Synthesis project. The project will examine the state of tribal transportation programs. Synthesis topics are overseen by an expert topic panel, which meets to select the consultant, and review the consultant's work. The work begins early in November when the panel -- which is comprised mostly of tribal members who work for tribes, BIA, State DOTs, TTAP, and FHWA -- meets for the first time.
FHWA’s Policy Office is starting a study to gather more information on Native American motor fuel use and is looking for the views and concerns of Native Americans with regard to reporting of motor fuel data.
In the elected officials track, right before lunch tomorrow, there will be a presentation on this study by Ralph Erickson, of our Office of Highway Policy Information. Ralph and a representative of the contractor that will carry out the survey will be available to answer questions one-on-one.
FHWA continues to fund the Four Corners Institute for Tribal/State Relations. The Institute focuses on tribal/state coordination and this year will examine the development and staffing of tribal transportation programs. I should note that Four Corners is a partnership between FHWA, the TTAP at Colorado State University, and the New Mexico DOT, and we look forward to continuing this partnership.
Collaborative partnerships among these national stakeholders ensure that the American people get the best return on their investment -- that we maintain a safe, secure and efficient transportation system. An example of partnerships and intergovernmental relationships are the meetings and conferences on transportation that continue to take place between states and tribal governments. Minnesota and Washington have recently had Tribal/State meetings. Similar conferences are being planned in New Mexico and Wisconsin.
As I mentioned earlier, I had an opportunity to meet with tribal leaders and transportation staff this summer in Montana. The meeting included tribal, state, FHWA, and BIA staff.
And this bears repeating: the most important thing FHWA can do is to make sure tribal governments are active participants and partners in our programs. To make transportation better, we need everyone to participate.
FHWA will continue to work with local and tribal governments, LTAP and TTAP centers, and states to share our experience and expertise. Transportation moves America. We all gain from cooperative efforts.