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Remarks by Victor Mendez, Administrator, FHWA
To the AASHTO Washington Briefing
Panel on Faster, Better Cheaper Project Delivery

Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 1:45 PM
Panel moderated by: Mike Lewis, Director, Rhode Island DOT

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Thanks very much, Mike. It’s a pleasure to be part of this very timely panel this afternoon.

I know there are a number of new CEOs and new senior staff here at the conference, so I welcome the chance to meet some new people that we’ll be working with in the years ahead.

I also appreciate the chance to share some ideas about a real passion of mine – shortening project delivery.

Project delivery has become a hot topic here in Washington!

The President’s budget, which I’ll discuss in just a minute, calls shortening project delivery “a major Administration priority.”

Congressman Mica, the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has also made project delivery one of his top priorities.

Several weeks ago, I testified before a T&I subcommittee that was focused on project delivery where I cited the lessons we learned from the Recovery Act about the need to bring more urgency to our work.

And I explained my Every Day Counts initiative, which I believe can help us make dramatic reductions in project delivery time.

BUDGET

All of this attention on project delivery is more than an academic exercise.

The President has challenged us to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world in order to “win the future.”

He’s indicated that infrastructure is at the heart of that effort, and that we can’t move people and goods safely and efficiently or compete with other economies, if we don’t have a transportation network that’s up to the job.

His budget backs up that vision with a bold roadmap for winning the future.

The President has requested $70.5 billion for the Federal Highway Administration in FY 2012.

This represents a new paradigm in funding our nation’s highways, and includes $42.8 billion for a restructured Federal-aid highway program and $27.7 billion in up-front funding to continue creating jobs repairing our aging roads and bridges.

This request is the first year of the Administration’s six-year reauthorization proposal, which provides $336 billion for highway programs from FY 2012 to FY 2017.

Most significantly, this proposal reflects a 48 percent increase in our funding.

It’s a budget we can all stand behind, one that should be viewed for exactly what it is: a transformative budget that will allow us to invest in a 21st century infrastructure.

Taken together, these investments will modernize our highway system while creating jobs, simplify the highway program’s structure, and establish a performance-based program in the critical areas of safety and state of good repair.

And if we look at some of the details in the proposal, we see its true promise:

  • Almost 60 percent of the budget request is dedicated toward improving the condition and performance of an enhanced National Highway System, one that would carry 55 percent of all traffic and 97 percent of all truck-borne freight.

  • The proposal would reduce the backlog of bridge system rehabilitation projects first identified in 2006 by 50 percent by 2017.

  • And it would mean that by 2017 almost 70 percent of the miles traveled on the National Highway System would take place on pavement with good ride quality.

And in keeping with the subject of this panel, the proposal will spur innovations that will shorten project delivery and accelerate the deployment of new technologies.

These include steps to enhance and streamline the environmental review process, require a reasonable assurance of funding before beginning environmental impact statements, and better integrate transportation planning and environmental review.

Some of this builds on provisions in SAFETEA-LU that did result in some improvement in delivery time. But I’ve always believed that we could do better while also maintaining project quality and protecting the environment.

EVERY DAY COUNTS

My response is a program I launched more than a year ago called Every Day Counts. I’m proud that EDC has had the support of AASHTO from the very beginning, along with other key transportation stakeholders.

AASHTO brought the state DOTs to the table. The construction community signed on through AGC and ARTBA, the consulting community through ACEC, and the National Association of County Engineers through their organization.

Every Day Counts offers a better, faster and smarter way of doing things.

It’s focused on two main pillars – shortening project delivery and speeding the deployment of new technologies – and consists of about 15 specific initiatives, the result of a long vetting process involving hundreds of ideas.

In the end, we decided to focus on ten ideas for shortening project delivery and five proven, market-ready technologies.

Generally speaking, the project delivery toolkit takes advantage of the flexibilities that exist in current laws and identifies places where we can cut some of the duplication we currently see in the planning and the environmental review process.

We also recommend some innovative contracting methods – specifically Design-Build and Construction Manager-General Contractor – that have been shown to save time and money.

The five technologies we’re advancing help us meet a variety of key goals.

For example, the use of Accelerated Bridge Construction techniques, where bridge elements are built off-site and assembled on-site like a giant Lego set, can dramatically save on project delivery time while also reducing disruption to the traveling public.

Last fall, we joined AASHTO in hosting a series of regional summits to introduce the initiatives to the people on the front-lines of project delivery from state and local governments and from the private sector.

Now each individual state has its own Implementation Team working with our Division Office to select the initiatives they want to implement and come up with a plan for doing so. All 50 states have identified EDC initiatives to move forward.

LESSONS LEARNED

A couple of takeaways are already becoming clear.

First, the state-based approach is critical to success. Each state has the best sense of its own needs, capabilities and legal frameworks. So the Implementation Teams are really going to guide the program in each state, rather than have a program that’s centrally controlled from Washington.

Second, it’s important that everyone – including my own FHWA colleagues -- take “ownership” of the principles and goals of Every Day Counts. I always tell people that Every Day Counts isn’t about me, any one CEO or any individual.

It’s about “owning” the idea that we can do better, that we can deliver projects sooner and that we can benefit from getting new technologies into the field.

I think we’re making tremendous progress in that direction. We’re no longer talking about whether we can shorten project delivery or if we should shorten it. We’re talking about how we’re actually going to do it.

Third, our ultimate success will be in creating a transportation culture of innovation that’s open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. I think this fits nicely with the President’s focus on education and innovation as tools for winning the future.

We need to make our transportation community more open to change and more accepting of new ideas. We want things that seem new today to be common practice tomorrow, and for that process to keep renewing itself as new ideas and new technologies are developed.

CONCLUSION

So that’s some of my thinking about project delivery in general and Every Day Counts in specific.

In closing, let me remind everyone of the importance we place on safety at the Department of Transportation. From the Secretary down through the ranks, safety is everyone’s top priority at DOT.

Our reauthorization proposal almost doubles the investment in highway safety programs so that we can continue to reduce fatalities and serious injuries.

As many of you know, the Secretary has made it a personal crusade to do something about distracted driving, and I’m proud to stand with him in that important effort.

So let me urge everyone that whenever you get behind the wheel to buckle up, turn off your cell phone, don’t drink and drive, and drive safely.

Thank you very much and I look forward to our discussion.

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