Victor Mendez, Administrator, Federal Highway Administration
Opening of I-64
St. Louis, Missouri
December 6, 2009
Thank you very much. Governor Nixon, Members of Congress, honored guests. It's a pleasure to be here in St. Louis.
Even growing up in El Paso, Texas, I remember the magic of Jack Buck's voice on television and radio. I know he was a beloved figure here in St. Louis, and I think naming this road after him is a wonderful tribute.
I was very excited to come here today because I wanted to see this project first-hand. It's a great example of how to do things right and deliver a major highway project to the public ahead of schedule and under budget.
The Federal Highway Administration invested $450 million dollars in this project, and you've spent it wisely. The rest of the nation can learn some valuable lessons from what you've done here in St. Louis.
I've challenged the transportation community, including my own agency, in a number of areas where you've been quite successful:
- Delivering major projects faster
- Making roads safer
- Reducing disruption while the project's being built
- Communicating with the public
- Being environmentally sensitive
You've met the test on every one of those challenges.
What's really exciting is the way you've used innovative practices. For example, by closing one entire section of the highway at a time, you allowed construction to move faster and were able to finish this project in two-and-a-half years.
That's an amazing record. If you'd used the more conventional approach of keeping one traffic lane open in each direction during construction, this project would have taken 7 or 8 years to complete.
We need to see more innovative thinking like that!
Now the traveling public will have a safer, less congested trip as they commute here in the St. Louis area. They'll be able to spend more time at home with their families or at work, instead of being stuck in traffic on an out-dated highway.
I know this project has also kept lots of men and women working during tough economic times, and helped many suppliers and local businesses. That's vitally important as we look to get our economy back on track.
The Recovery Act that President Obama signed in February has been instrumental in creating jobs while building America's 21st century infrastructure.
We've committed more than $21 billion of Recovery Act highway funds since February, to building roads and repairing bridges. We've saved or created more than 30,000 jobs.
This project is not part of the Recovery Act. But it shows the power of these big highway projects to make the lives of motorists easier, make our economy stronger and more competitive, and create jobs.
We're also making roads safer. Last year, we had the lowest number of traffic deaths in this country since 1961. That's a tremendous achievement. But we can't be satisfied.
In addition to building highways and bridges that are safer, we also have to urge people to act responsibly behind the wheel. Our Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, has started a national effort to reduce the epidemic of distracted driving.
We must get people to stop texting and talking on their phones while they're behind the wheel. We can build safer roads, but in the end we need drivers to be responsible.
And that means focusing on driving, not on texting.
In closing, let me urge everyone to buckle their seat belts, turn off their cell phones, and drive safely along this and every other road.
Thank you very much.