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Remarks as prepared for delivery
FHWA Acting Administrator Rick Capka
Transportation and Energy Initiatives
Fargo, North Dakota/Morehead, Minnesota community leaders
February 22, 2006

OPENING

I'm here to talk about the big picture -- the President's plan to save energy and reduce dependency on foreign oil.

And then -- to get more concrete -- what we're doing at Federal Highways to help achieve that goal by fighting congestion and by building highway and bridge projects better, safer, and faster.

RELIABLE ENERGY

As you know, President Bush made it clear in his State of the Union Address last month that America's addiction to oil must end. To remain economically strong, to maintain our global leadership, America needs affordable, reliable energy. So the President called for replacing more than 75 percent of oil imports from the Middle East by the year 2025.

Obviously, transportation is a big part of meeting the President's goal. Americans travel almost five trillion miles a year -- more than 15,000 miles per person. In addition, our vast transportation network carries more than 12 billion tons of freight every year, or the equivalent of 40 tons for every man, woman, and child in America. More than 13 million barrels of oil a day go into operating the transportation network.

We are the most mobile society on earth, and that's not going to change. What will have to change is that our cars, trains, airplanes, trucks, buses, and ships must use significantly less oil...if they use oil at all...move people and products in the future.

Putting transportation on an energy diet while continuing to support a growing economy is a big challenge. But then, so was figuring out how to power a ship using steam … unlocking the secret of powered flight … and finding a way to mass-produce automobiles - a challenge American ingenuity met so well that, today, 250 million cars travel our roads.

Indeed, innovation has always been synonymous with transportation in America.

And here in Fargo and Moorhead -- and across the country -- innovative transportation industries and providers are coming up with creative ideas to use less energy and find alternative energy sources … while keeping America moving. The leading-edge technologies developed at The Energy and Environment Research Center at the University of North Dakota are good examples of ways that we can tighten our energy belt.

One promising area of research at the EERC is biomass - or renewable organic material such as fast-growing switchgrass - that is being researched as a clean renewable fuel for utility systems. And EERC is definitely not alone in this line of research.

Since 2001, the Bush Administration has invested nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources. We're on the verge of some exciting breakthroughs in how we power our automobiles - breakthroughs that the President's Advanced Energy Initiative is designed to accelerate. Among them are developing domestic, renewable alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuels; producing better batteries for hybrid and electric cars; and, powering cars and other vehicles using pollution-free hydrogen fuel cells.

So, what are we doing at Federal Highways to fight congestion, save energy, and build highway and bridge projects better, safer, and faster?

CONGESTION

As I said earlier, being a mobile society with a strong economy means a growing demand for transportation. Alternative energy sources will help solve one aspect of the supply side of the transportation issue. We at Federal Highways are helping to solve another aspect of the supply side of transportation - capacity.

Loss of capacity results in congestion. For our national economy, congestion is the enemy of productivity, global commerce and fuel efficiency.

Our research shows that bottlenecks account for about 40 percent of congestion, with the balance caused by work zones, crashes, breakdowns, bad weather and poor signal timing. That means in 2003, the last year these figures are tallied, congestion caused 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and 2.3 billion gallons of wasted fuel. That's a lot of fuel wasted sitting in traffic.

And congestion is an important reason why the Bush Administration is working on a framework for a National Freight Policy. The policy is a work in progress - we're consulting all stakeholders - but a national policy will be a crucial step to stop congestion from choking the movement of vital freight shipments.

ITS

Transportation can't exist without energy so it is in our best interest to save as much as we can. Here are some ways we are increasing the capacity of existing infrastructure, and some of the ways we are seeking to add new capacity.

One way we get the most efficient use from our existing infrastructure is through Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). ITS technology fights congestion by making the best use of what we have. We've made great strides in the development and deployment of ITS technologies such as traffic management systems, advanced signal control, electronic toll collection, automated collision notification, and traveler information systems.

The new surface transportation act that was signed by President Bush last August creates a new program, the real-time system management information program. Under the program, states have new resources to establish information management programs that monitor real-time traffic and travel conditions and provide that information to travelers.

The information -

  • Helps drivers plan the quickest, safest route,
  • Helps emergency officials respond more quickly and efficiently to crashes,
  • Helps state and local transportation agencies respond to changing traffic conditions, and,

That saves time, frustration and, of course, fuel.

The program also promotes the establishment and enhancement of 511 traveler information services. Minnesota launched 511 in mid-2002 and North Dakota in early 2003. Your states were early implementers and your systems are exemplary. In states like yours where winter storms can be fast moving and deadly, a 511 warning of harsh winter weather could save lives. By the end of 2006, we're working to have 511 systems accessible to 50 per cent of our nation's population and even more in the years beyond.

There's tremendous potential for helping all drivers -- whether on the road to work, a weekend trip or a trucker on a long haul across the country -- avoid traffic tie ups, construction delays, logjams and bad weather … all the things that frustrate our lives and waste time and energy.

NEW CONSTRUCTION

These technology-based steps make a major contribution to congestion relief. And that helps each of us save fuel. But there are times and places, of course, where only new construction will do.

Around here, the I-29 and I-94 reconstruction project provides for added capacity for traffic moving in and around the area. The project includes additional lanes, redesigned interchanges, and grade separations to reduce congestion and delays.

We know what new projects like this can do. They give us better and safer travel options. And, by keeping us on the move, they help us end wasteful fuel consumption.

BUILD IT BETTER

When we do build or repair projects, we must build them better, safer and longer lasting. But we want to do more than just build higher-quality roads and bridges. We also want to build them in a way so we don't have to repair them as often and, when we do, it doesn't take as long.

Anytime we can cut down on the frequency or length of construction projects, we're eliminating traffic congestion and the wasted fuel it causes. This effort is embodied in the Highways for LIFE program that fosters the use of new technologies and more efficient ways of building highways.

The program provides critical seed money that will demonstrate state-of-the-art technologies and new business practices that lead to improved construction of longer-lasting roads and bridges. Not only does it result in better quality infrastructure … it cuts down on the time that work zones back up traffic.

INNOVATIVE FINANCE

And finally, getting the most out of what we have and selectively building and repairing won't happen if we can't pay for what we need. We're developing financial innovations to extend our resources

One promising avenue is tapping into the resources of the private sector to better leverage the public funds available for transportation projects. This is an approach that we strongly support at the federal level and we're seeing it embraced around the country.

It's called public-private partnerships - private sector investment and participation is critical. Now that the new surface transportation law has removed most legal hurdles at the federal level, think of the huge potential.

Only 19 states have PPP laws now. More states should explore this funding option. More public officials are coming around to the idea of viewing transportation infrastructure as financial assets and not just liabilities. Good examples are the Chicago Skyway, the Trans Texas Corridor, and several HOT lane projects.

Attracting more private sector investment - and attracting more private sector participation in designing, building and operating roads and bridges - is another avenue of delivering transportation improvements faster and at less cost to the taxpayer. We know that getting road projects moving is the best way to ensure that we're not wasting time and fuel stuck in traffic.

The Bush Administration is making a number of other tools available to state and local governments to address their capacity and congestion problems. Transportation Secretary Mineta announced one of those initiatives earlier this month. President Bush's 2007 budget proposal includes a new Open Roads Financing Pilot Program, which provides $100 million for highway financing projects in as many as five states. The goal is to test alternatives to the gas tax that may well prove to be more efficient for financing construction.

Alternatives to the gas tax, which has served us so well for 50 years, are important. That's because there's growing consensus that traditional gas taxes will not be sufficient to pay for all of our future surface transportation improvements.

CLOSE

Groundbreaking ideas generated by innovative minds have paid enormous dividends -- technology advances have improved the lives of generations of Americans.

A few weeks ago, President Bush said in his State of the Union address that technology and innovation are keys to his energy initiative. Technology and innovation are also key to making our surface transportation system stronger, safer and more efficient. And that keeps Americans moving and our economy growing, not idling in traffic.

With more research in both the public and private sectors, and more productive applications of what we already know . . . we will improve our quality of life and ensure that America will lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come.

-end-

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