Remarks as prepared for delivery
Rick Capka, Administrator, FHWA
Illinois DOT Contractor of the Year Awards Luncheon, hosted by AGC of Illinois
December 4, 2007, Springfield, Illinois
Federal Highways, AGC, and Illinois DOT have cooperated on many important projects. I want to thank your organizations for great work in support of highway safety.
In 2006, Illinois had the lowest number of traffic fatalities since 1924. And your state’s safety belt use rate of 90 percent beats the national rate of 81 percent. Despite this kind of success, more than 42,000 people (an average of 117 a day) died in traffic crashes nationwide in 2006. That’s way too high.
Keeping workers safe as they build a road and the American public safe as they use our roadways is essential to good government and to good business. Safety is woven into all that we do.
In addition to our constant commitment to safety, we have an opportunity now, as an industry, to do great things.
We have an opportunity now to maintain and rebuild infrastructure, reduce congestion, and above all, keep the public trust.
We cannot let this moment pass.
Congress is gearing up to write the next highway reauthorization bill. The issues facing transportation have broad implications -- they affect your bottom line, the national economy, and everyone’s quality of life. The more I travel the country, the more I become convinced that momentum is building for the major changes we need to keep America moving.
But, you all need to be involved -- not just legislators and state DOTs -- but each and every one of you. That involvement can be though Illinois AGC, AGC of America, or any other path that works for you.
Our industry produced the greatest public works project of the 20th century -- our interstate highway system. The interstate system is built. We’re in the 21st century now -- we have to look ahead.
We need to grab hold of our infrastructure needs, move aggressively to relieve congestion, keep the public trust. It can’t happen without YOU.
I want to talk about some of the innovative work U.S. DOT and Federal Highways are doing on congestion and infrastructure. As highlighted in the report released by the Texas Transportation Institute in September, congestion is a major factor in daily life. Annually, congestion causes a $78 billion drain on the U.S. economy in the form of lost hours and wasted fuel. For the U.S to maintain leadership in the global economy, we must reduce congestion.
A little more than a year ago, U.S. DOT announced its Congestion Initiative and launched the FightGridlockNow.gov web site. We said that our goal is more than just reduce its rate of growth; we should reduce the level of congestion that travelers experience.
The Congestion Initiative has been successful in two broad objectives:
- Getting people to think about congestion and accept that it is not inevitable, and,
- Proving that there are new and innovative strategies for delivering transportation.
A key part of the Congestion Initiative is the Urban Partners program.
We want to identify congestion-fighting leaders. That’s why, in August, Secretary Peters awarded $850 million in federal grants to cities in five states -- Miami, Florida; Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; and New York, New York.
The initiative has helped jump-start cutting-edge traffic-fighting packages that combine technology, tolling and congestion pricing, and expanded transit. We’re seeking new applications by December 31 for a second round of awards -- we’re calling them Congestion Reduction Demonstration Initiatives. The Federal Register notice was published on November 13.
Corridors of the Future
The Corridors of the Future part of the Congestion Initiative represents a potential new way of doing business. The goal is to encourage states to work together to reduce congestion on nationally-important transportation corridors and target the corridors for long-term investment.
In September, we identified six “Corridors of the Future.” These corridors -- I-95, I-70, I-15, I-5, I-10 and I-69 -- carry almost one-quarter of the nation’s daily interstate travel. They received federal grants to help them explore congestion reducing strategies such as --
- Building new roads,
- Adding lanes to existing roads,
- Building truck-only lanes and bypasses, and,
- Integrating real-time traffic technology like ramp management that matches capacity to changing traffic demands.
All of the corridors show great potential for using private as well as public resources to fight congestion.
Another element of the Initiative focuses on Operational and Technological Improvements such as Traveler Information, Traffic Signal Timing, Work Zones, and Incident Management.
A big part of reducing congestion is embracing innovation. Public Private Partnerships are a policy and financial innovation that needs to be an option for nearly every major new project.
PPPs, as we call them, are no longer just experiments. They are used around the world -- and increasingly in the United States -- to reduce congestion and complete projects more quickly. Last month in California, San Diego’s long-awaited South Bay Expressway opened thanks to private capital turning this “much-needed but how can we possibly pay for it” highway project into a reality. This is a new road financed, built, and now operated and maintained with tolls that are electronically collected.
Tolling, a user fee, is joining the transportation mainstream, and is often the preferred way to add significant new capacity in metropolitan areas. I was struck by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s recent comment to a group of legislators that his city has no business operating a toll road. “We’re not the experts,” he said, adding that city government needs to focus on what it does best and let experts do what they do best -- a far more efficient approach than building a new government bureaucracy.
From the Chicago Skyway, to the Indiana turnpike, to the South Bay Expressway, America is learning that the free market can deliver capital, innovation, cost-savings, and quality.
There’s a nationally significant PPP underway in Chicago, the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program or CREATE. The partnership includes U.S. DOT, the City of Chicago, the state, six of the nation’s largest freight railroads, and Chicago’s commuter railroad, Metra.
Who benefits from CREATE?
- The freight industry, passenger rail, and the driving public -- because of grade crossing removal and reduced need to move shipments on highways.
- The American economy -- because of reduced delay in moving freight across the country.
The nation needs PPPs and other innovative financing tools because the current financing system for transportation is broken. Current projections show a $4.3 billion shortfall in the highway account in FY 2009. As Secretary Peters has said, we aren’t going to solve our congestion woes by hiking the gas tax.
According to recent surveys, the public overwhelmingly opposes the idea of raising the federal gas tax. That is because they have no confidence that their gas taxes -- which go into the Highway Trust Fund -- will be spent either wisely or well. Washington’s misplaced priority of earmarking preferred projects has caused Americans to lose trust in the trust fund.
INFRASTUCTURE & BRIDGES
One of our initiatives is to encourage early and broad adoption of innovative highway and bridge technology. A key program for this is Highways for LIFE. AGC was an early partner in creating the program.
We know it can take years, or even decades to get highway innovations into common practice. So we piloted an approach to speed up the process. The HfL program includes demonstration projects, performance goals, stakeholder involvement, and technology transfer.
With help from HfL, states are putting innovations such as prefabricated bridge elements and “Making Work Zones Work Better” into practice.
We have an opportunity, now, to maintain and rebuild our infrastructure, particularly bridges. The Minnesota Bridge collapse was a wakeup call.
Bridges don’t just collapse. Something went wrong.
I don’t know what it was, yet, but we will make needed adjustments when the cause or causes becomes clear. With Congress' assistance, we are committed to making funds available to rebuild the bridge as quickly as possible.
KEEP PUBLIC TRUST
The third opportunity, along with congestion and infrastructure, is keeping public trust.
Why do I think this is so important?
I’ve believed it for a long time, but the belief is stronger since my weeks leading the on-the-ground team in Minneapolis. The public deserves to know and trust that our highways are safe. A crucial part of building infrastructure is building -- and maintaining -- public trust. The public needs to feel confident that we spend their money wisely.
Leaders like us must be good stewards of public funds and public trust. Trust is something you can gain and you can lose. Once lost, it is very hard to restore.
We need to make maximum use of every innovation and technique to build faster, better and safer. And, the public needs confidence in our designs, quality control, inspections, and maintenance.
Building infrastructure means building public trust.
It’s an exciting (and challenging) time to be a professional in the transportation industry. We are facing the toughest issues of our lives.
That means we have an opportunity to do great things by renewing our infrastructure, reducing congestion, and keeping public trust.
As I’ve said, we cannot let this moment pass.
Innovation in transportation is underway.
Reauthorization may bring significant change.
You need to be involved to turn great ideas into reality. I look forward to your energy and enthusiasm as we move forward. As always, it’s great to be on the same team!