Remarks as prepared for delivery
Rick Capka, FHWA Administrator
2006 Utah DOT Engineering Conference, Sandy, Utah
Monday, November 13, 2006
CONGESTION CHOKING THE SYSTEM
I want to concentrate this morning on the need to expand on our good relationship with Utah DOT through our new Congestion Initiative.
We already have a lot to be proud of.
When it comes to our nation's mobility, the interstate highways made possible by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, did more to bring Americans together than almost any other law of the last century. It's important to salute our achievements at the 50th anniversary of the Interstate, but it's also critical that we look ahead to the new direction that we must take to keep our entire transportation system strong, efficient, and safe in the 21st century.
When we started building the system 50 years ago, the United States faced a major transportation challenge. Then, we wanted to connect our nation and get goods to market. And we did. Today, congestion is choking our transportation system.
Now, I'm sure that I don't have to convince anyone here that we need to target congestion relief. Transportation does keep America moving, after all. But the impact of congestion goes beyond any one metro area. Congestion affects our ability to compete worldwide. Businesses today are in competition not just with the shop on the next corner, or even the next town. They are competing with retailers and e-retailers in the next county, the next state, and the next country. And logistics costs of moving that freight are starting to creep up again.
If we can eliminate the freight chokepoints and bottlenecks, how much more competitive would that make American products in the global marketplace?
How much more affordable would it make goods and services for the American consumer if companies didn't have to build buffer time for congestion delay into their schedules?
Utah understands that the economy of this metro area, the state . . . and our economic competitiveness as a nation . . . depends on our continuing ability to move products and people efficiently across the country, through our ports, and around the world.
CONGESTION RELIEF INITIATIVE
America is competing in a global economy.
Keeping products and people moving efficiently is the goal of our new congestion initiative. The Bush Administration's congestion relief initiative provides federal, state, and local officials with a clear plan to expand capacity on our existing roads, highways, and ports, and encourages new approaches to fund and manage our transportation systems of the future. If all of us work together, we expect short-term and long-term improvements.
Let me pause here to dispel a possible misconception. I want to make it clear that we are not sacrificing safety to boost congestion relief. As Secretary Peters said to the AASHTO Annual Meeting two weeks ago: "Safety is, and continues to be, my top priority at the Department of Transportation."
We need to save lives and reduce congestion. And as we reduce congestion, safety will improve. We need to make progress on both.
Regarding congestion, there is much to do.
For example, the #1 area of emphasis in our congestion initiative focuses on urban congestion through partnership agreements with metropolitan areas that are willing, among other things, to invest in pricing systems designed to spread traffic throughout the day. London, Stockholm and Singapore have tested this type of pricing on their most congested corridors. The results have been impressive, with substantial reductions in traffic congestion, major increases in transit use, and millions of dollars in new investments and revenues.
We are working on a Federal Register notice (it will be published soon) and we hope to sign up as many as four urban partners.
We will assist congested metro areas in applying a full toolbox of solutions -- variable tolls, transit, telecommuting, flex time, traveler information systems, highway expansion at bottlenecks, and more. Once we get started, once we can demonstrate some success, we hope for a ripple effect across the country.
Utah is a leader -- and you need to be as one of the nation's fastest growing states. You demonstrate that leadership with --
- Record state funding for transportation,
- Building a commuter rail line connecting Weber and Davis Counties with Salt Lake City, and,
- HOT lanes on I-15
We are targeting major freight bottlenecks. We are putting an emphasis on the most heavily used truck corridors. And, we will convene a joint border transportation task force with the Department of Homeland Security to accelerate transportation investment at our borders.
We will identify and support three to five multi-state "corridors of the future" with the greatest potential to relieve traffic based on current and projected growth. The federal register notice for this program was published in September and we've received more than 30 applications.
We will encourage faster and broader deployment of technologies that are successful in reducing traffic tie ups.
That means --
- More real-time traffic information for all system travelers.
- More use of congestion-reducing ITS technology to improve traffic flow on freeways and arterials.
- More ways to improve the efficiency and attractiveness of public transportation.
- More sharing of ways to reduce the impact of incidents and work zones.
Among the best technologies --
Full deployment of 511 throughout the nation. In launching its 511 service prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Utah is a pioneer among the 27 states providing 511 service to 35 percent of the population.
Widespread dissemination of real-time travel information through 511, the Web, dynamic message signs, and other methods. Twenty of our 40 largest metropolitan areas now post travel times on dynamic message signs. Federal Highways has partnered with academia and the private sector to develop new software -- ACS-lite -- that allows traffic signals to adjust to changing traffic patterns.
We are restructuring our approach to funding aviation programs so that we can better match the need for new runways, towers, and air traffic control equipment to current demand.
And very important. We will educate states and localities about the opportunities for private financing, and encourage more states to follow the lead of Indiana, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, and Oregon . . . by giving the private sector a broader role in funding and operating transportation systems.
Indiana entered into one of the largest transportation infrastructure contracts in American history when it agreed to lease the Indiana Tollway to a private business for 75 years. As soon as papers were signed, $3.8 billion flowed into state bank accounts to complete the lease. Last month, Texas became the first state to receive federal approval to raise more than $1.8 billion in Private Activity Bonds for road work in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The importance of tapping innovative funding is evident when you consider that traditional revenue sources such as federal and state gas taxes are not growing fast enough to meet the nation's transportation needs. Clearly, we need new approaches.
The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, authorized by SAFETEA-LU, is leading what I hope will be an historic transition in the way that highway and transit projects are funded and managed.
Secretary Peters, the Commission chair, feels strongly about finding answers to long-term funding issues. Everything is on the table and that's as it should be.
The Commission has heard presentations from such groups as AASHTO, the Transportation Research Board and the National Chamber Foundation. They are exploring direct user charge options, such as tolls, that will not merely reflect demand, but affect it. They've listened to presentations on a long list of options such as new customs fees, public private partnerships, private activity bonds, and methods to charge drivers on the basis of miles driven.
I know parts of the Congestion Initiative are familiar. That's because we know what we need to do and we've made a good start.
Congestion is not a scientific mystery, nor is it an uncontrollable force.
At DOT, the Congestion Initiative is underway. It will evolve as our work with localities and states helps us find and deploy better ways to keep America moving.
The Bush Administration is committed to keeping the economy strong and growing. Looking around this room, I know we have the tools, the technology, the plans, the partners and the commitment -- with Utah and UDOT at the forefront -- to make today's congestion a thing of the past.