Remarks by Victor Mendez, Administrator
AGC Environmental Conference
Friday, June 14, 2013 at 8 AM
It’s a great pleasure to be here this morning and to take part in AGC’s 2nd environmental conference.
It’s my honor to represent an Administration and a Department that take protecting our environment very seriously.
Under the leadership of Secretary Ray LaHood, we support alternative-fuel vehicles for transit, cleaner-burning jet fuel for aviation and highway projects that reduce emissions by relieving congestion.
I’m pleased to note that we not only talk the talk, we walk the walk. DOT has fully embraced President Obama’s Executive Order to make federal agencies leaders when it comes to sustainability.
And our Every Day Counts initiative encourages all FHWA employees to find ways to make our own agency greener.
Of course, the nation’s contractors play a key role in putting sustainable practices and materials to work.
The choices you make have a direct impact on the sustainability of a project.
As partners in building what the President calls an America built to last, we salute your commitment to creating jobs by building a safe, strong and sustainable infrastructure.
The transportation community approaches sustainability along several different tracks that I want to discuss briefly this morning before I take your questions.
MAP-21 is a significant bi-partisan achievement for Congress and the Administration.
It provides states with two years of funding, which gives them the certainty they need to plan and invest in projects.
Project delivery is an area of great concern to Congress, and in writing MAP-21, Congress made some changes to the environmental review process designed to get projects delivered sooner while still protecting the environment.
Some of those changes are already being put to work.
In Seattle, they’re using the new CE for emergency repairs to help rebuild the I-5 Skagit Bridge, part of which collapsed a couple of weeks ago.
We believe this is the first time this new provision has been used.
Some states are already using another new provision that combines the Final Environmental Impact Statement with the Record of Decision, eliminating a 30-day review period.
Illinois was one of the first to use this provision on the Illiana Parkway.
In general, Congress wants agencies to carry out their reviews and other obligations concurrently with the NEPA process.
They want better integration of the planning and environmental review process.
And they want to see greater use of Programmatic Agreements, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
Our team has been very active posting guidance and Q-and-A’s to help everyone understand the changes MAP-21 has made in the environmental area.
And the rulemaking activity continues.
In addition to the new CE for emergency repairs that I mentioned, we’re developing a final rule in two other areas - projects within an existing right of way and projects with limited Federal assistance.
EVERY DAY COUNTS
In the fall of 2009, I launched the innovation initiative Every Day Counts to speed project delivery, deploy proven solutions and technologies, and help protect the environment.
In the first round of EDC, which ended last December, we advanced a number of strategies designed to move projects forward. Several of them bear on the focus of this conference:
Enhanced technical assistance with ongoing Environmental Impact Statements;
Planning and environmental linkages that encourage the use of information developed in planning to inform the NEPA process;
Expanded use of Programmatic Agreements.
All three of these were incorporated into MAP-21.
Expanding the use of Programmatic Agreements has been especially successful, and we continue to encourage it in the second round of EDC.
During Round One, 56 new agreements were initiated and 101 were updated.
Another very successful Round One innovation was the expanded use of Warm Mix Asphalt, a practice where America’s contractors have taken a leadership role.
Warm Mix offers tremendous cost savings and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. 47 states and all of our Federal Lands Highway divisions now have standard specs for Warm Mix.
I’m pleased to say that use of Warm Mix has gone up 20 percent since we started encouraging states to use it through Every Day Counts.
Last year alone, we saved more than 75 million gallons of fuel by using Warm Mix and we’ve reduced emissions of carbon dioxide by two million tons – the equivalent of taking 375,000 vehicles off the road.
The National Asphalt Paving Association predicts that Warm Mix will be the industry standard in three to five years.
That’s really the goal with Every Day Counts – to make innovation standard practice in our industry.
But we have to keep in mind that EDC is a state-based initiative, and so it’s up to the states to decide which innovations to implement and to set the pace in moving the innovation to standard practice.
I can look out my office window and see an example of sustainable transportation.
The DC Department of Transportation re-built the 11th Street Bridge using state-of-the-art sustainability practices.
In the course of building the new bridge, DDOT pilot tested our new sustainability self-assessment tool, known as INVEST.
They found it to be a good way to help state DOTs and MPOs evaluate the sustainability of their projects.
We started developing INVEST several years ago to help stakeholders build sustainability into the entire project life cycle.
After pilot testing INVEST at 19 transportation agencies across the country and getting input from hundreds of people, FHWA released INVEST Version 1.0 last October.
INVEST is practical, free and web-based. It can help transportation agencies integrate sustainable practices into their programs and projects based on a collection of carefully defined criteria or best practices.
They range from life cycle cost analysis to energy efficiency, use of recycled materials, stormwater, safety, maintenance and weather management.
INVEST can also help agencies improve what we call the sustainability triple bottom line:
How does the project impact the natural environment;
How does it impact the quality of life or bring social benefits to the community;
How does it impact the economy.
We’re encouraging state DOTs and MPOs to implement INVEST. And we’re providing toolkits and technical assistance.
There are currently active INVEST projects in 12 states. Here are some examples:
The Illinois Tollway is using INVEST to assess 18 completed projects in order to set a baseline. Then it will evaluate and improve 8 projects currently in progress.
The MPO for southern Maine is using INVEST to develop the next long-range transportation plan.
Ohio DOT used INVEST to assess the sustainability of the Cleveland Inner-belt bridge project.
Utah DOT evaluated its operations and maintenance program, and used INVEST to develop recommended steps to improve sustainability.
Our Western Federal Lands Highway Division is using INVEST to look across several projects and see where they could improve sustainability practices.
In several of the pilots, contractors were actively involved in evaluating INVEST alongside state DOT and MPO staff.
Contractors played a valuable role in identifying areas where practices were already sustainable and areas where sustainability could be improved.
When you look at things through a sustainability “lens,” you often find win-win solutions that not only improve environmental, social and economic outcomes, but save money for the contractor and the DOT.
So I hope you’ll check out INVEST on our sustainable highways website and start using it.
Safety is the Number One priority of the Department of Transportation.
Designing projects in a way that enhances safety is one of the INVEST criteria because safe roads contribute to the economic and social well-being of a community.
But safer roads are only part of the equation. The driver plays a critical part as well.
During his tenure, Secretary LaHood has started a national conversation about distracted driving.
It’s always dangerous to take your eyes off the road or get distracted talking on your phone while driving.
But it’s especially dangerous during the construction season when there are so many work zones on our roads and highways.
You know better than anyone the importance of those work zones.
They’re a sign of jobs being created and work being done to improve our infrastructure.
As an industry, we have a responsibility to protect the safety of the people who work there, as well as the people who drive through them and their passengers.
41 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books that ban texting while driving.
But safe driving also comes down to common sense and good judgment.
So I hope you’ll set a good example for your colleagues, family and friends every time you get behind the wheel.
That means to always buckle your seat belt, put away your cell phone when you’re driving, watch out for pedestrians and people riding bikes, and simply drive safely.
Thank you very much!
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