Remarks by Victor Mendez, Administrator, FHWA
16th Annual Transportation and Infrastructure Summit
Omni Mandalay Hotel, Irving, Texas
Friday, August 9, 2013 at 8 AM
It’s a pleasure to join you this morning.
I look forward to my annual summer visit to Irving and the chance to talk to with so many transportation leaders from around the country and the world.
David Dean’s ability to put together a first-rate transportation summit continues to amaze.
But David would be the first to admit that many people had a hand in creating this summit and making it successful.
I’d especially like to mention Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who’s served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since she was first elected to Congress.
I know the Congresswoman was unable to join us this morning.
But as David always points out, she’s the one who started this summit 16 years ago and continues to support it.
As many of you know, about a month ago Anthony Foxx was sworn in as the nation’s 17th Secretary of Transportation.
He succeeds Ray LaHood, who was a tremendous champion for safety and a strong voice for putting Americans to work rebuilding our nation’s roads and bridges.
Secretary Foxx is committed to making safety our Number One priority – as it was for Secretary LaHood.
As a former mayor, he also brings a strong focus on making government more efficient and more effective.
Secretary Foxx wants people to enjoy the benefits of new projects as soon as possible – whether it’s a safer ride to school in the morning, a more efficient way to ship goods to a customer or an easier ride home from work so you can spend more time with your family.
Those are worthy goals at any time. But they can be difficult to reach in challenging times like the ones we’re living in today – economically challenging and politically challenging.
I see from the program that the final two sessions this morning deal with two subjects that bear directly on our ability to reach those goals. Those subjects are finance and innovation.
In my view, the two are closely related. In today’s economic environment we have to be just as innovative on the finance side as we are on the project delivery side.
You’ve probably heard the old expression, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Well, in today’s environment you could also say necessity is the mother of innovation.
Let’s start with finance, which is something all of us at US DOT are keenly focused on.
One year ago, President Obama signed into law the new surface transportation bill, MAP-21. When I spoke at last year’s summit, the law was brand new and we were discussing it in broad terms.
Since then, FHWA has worked extremely hard to implement the new law. We’ve done extensive outreach to stakeholders, including hosting webinars, online dialogues and meetings.
We’ve posted guidance and other materials on our website on most – if not all – programs.
And we got the FY 2013 apportionments out on time to the states.
Right now we’re in the process of publishing the proposed rules that are required under the law.
Performance measurement is the most challenging and exciting part of MAP-21. It will give show the public the results they’re getting for their taxpayer dollars and help us make more cost-effective investments.
It will be implemented through a series of rulemakings later this year and early next.
MAP-21 also brought two years of certain funding so states and local governments could make their investment decisions.
But the reality of a two-year bill is starting to set in. We’re now one year into a two-year bill. What happens next?
It’s going to be hard enough to keep programs going at current levels, much less meet the demands on our infrastructure from a growing population and a growing economy.
We need to continue looking for political consensus on how to fund surface transportation in a time of difficult budgetary choices and extreme partisanship.
It’s not going to be easy. But we look forward to working with Congress to find a solution.
Any solution will require us to be more innovative. We’re already moving in that direction.
TIFIA is an innovative finance program that provides loans for major infrastructure projects.
Congress gave TIFIA a tremendous boost in MAP-21 from a $122 million per year program to a $1 billion program in fiscal 2014. It’s now the largest infrastructure loan program in history.
To date, TIFIA has helped get 32 projects off the ground and turned more than $11 billion in DOT support into almost $44 billion in infrastructure investment across America.
Texas has been a leader in using TIFIA assistance to speed delivery of projects to meet the needs of this rapidly growing state. A total of $3.4 billion has been obligated here in Texas and resulted in construction of more than $11 billion worth of projects!
Several of the projects are right here in the Dallas area. They include:
The Western Extension of the President George Bush Turnpike, which is improving the movement of people and goods throughout the region. This project got $418 million in TIFIA assistance. I had the pleasure of attending the dedication earlier this year.
The I-635 Managed Lane Project, which is using an $850 million TIFIA loan to help move up the project delivery date.
The I-635 project is a public-private partnership. These partnerships are a creative way to get more out of each transportation dollar we spend – while still making the critical investments America needs to succeed in the future.
While federal funding will always play an essential role in transportation, the role of public-private partnerships seems likely to grow.
Another innovative financing tool is our TIGER grant program, which forces projects to compete on their merits for funding, including their ability to create jobs, generate economic growth and improve safety.
We’ve had four rounds of TIGER grants so far in which we’ve awarded $3.1 billion to 218 projects.Â Many of these are multi-modal or multi-state projects that don’t fit neatly into old funding formulas. More than one-third of the grants have gone to freight projects.
For example, a project known as Tower 55 here in Fort Worth got a $34 million TIGER grant to help relieve one of the worst freight bottlenecks in the nation.
But to give you an idea of the demand for project financing, consider this:
Although we’ve awarded $3.1 billion in grants, we had applications for more than $105 billion!!
We’re currently in the process of evaluating applications for the next round of TIGER grants.
We got applications worth more than $9 billion, well more than the $474 million we have available.
So as we look to the financing of future projects, it’s clear that innovation has to be part of the equation.
But we can’t stop there. Â We also have to pursue innovation in project delivery in order to become better, faster and smarter in how we bring transportation to the public.
INNOVATIVE PROJECT DELIVERY
Several years ago, I launched an innovation initiative called Every Day Counts to speed project delivery and deploy proven, but under-used technologies.
It’s a state-based program. We offer states a menu of strategies and technologies, then work with them to make the choices that work best for them.
We’re currently working with the states to implement the second round of Every Day Counts innovations.
Texas has been a very strong partner.
It’s been especially aggressive in deploying a technology known as Warm Mix Asphalt, which allows asphalt to be made and placed on the road at lower temperatures.
From 2009 – when we launched Every Day Counts – through 2012, the use of Warm Mix nationally grew from 5 percent of the market to 30 percent.
This cut plant emissions by 5 percent, which is equal to taking 160,000 cars off the road. And it saved more than $100 million worth of fuel.
We project that as Warm Mix becomes common practice, that by 2020 we will have saved more than $3.5 billion in fuel costs.
One thing I’ve found out about our new Secretary is that he likes to be able to quantify the impact of something – like the amount of time or money saved.
Warm Mix has become a favorite example!
Texas has also been aggressive in adopting – and even pioneering – some of the project delivery strategies, like Programmatic Agreements and innovative forms of contracting.
The goal is to get projects moving sooner so we can put people to work, and to deliver the project sooner so communities can reap the benefits.
That includes growing the economy and attracting new business and new jobs.
President Obama has been talking about that recently as he speaks around the country.
It was also presented very well in the Tex-21 report that David shared with me earlier this year.
The report highlights the need to not only think about a project in terms of the number of construction jobs it creates, but also in terms of the economic activity it helps to generate.
We see that reflected in MAP-21’s focus on freight. We need a strong, multi-modal infrastructure to keep America competitive and to attract new businesses and their employees to our communities.
We’re moving aggressively to implement the law’s freight provisions, and we have a Freight Policy Council to coordinate our efforts among the different modes.
To underscore the importance of this Council, it’s chaired by our Deputy Secretary John Porcari.
But just as we need to be innovative in our financing and our project delivery, we also need to be innovative in our thinking.
Every Day Counts takes a step in that direction by making innovation a standard part of the transportation culture.
Beyond the individual initiatives, Every Day Counts challenges people to step outside their comfort zone, try new ideas or take a second look at an old idea.
Innovative thinking also requires us to continue – even enhance – the sense of bipartisanship that has always been the hallmark of transportation.
Secretary LaHood always said there’s no such thing as a Democratic or Republican road.
MAP-21 represents one of the few major bipartisan success stories we’ve seen from Congress recently.
But there are tough choices ahead – especially in the area of funding – and that bipartisan spirit will be put to the test.
Finally, we need to adjust our thinking about what it really means to be a transportation professional.
The Federal Highway Administration is an outstanding agency that oversees the finest, safest highway system in the world.
But all of us at FHWA -- and at state and local transportation agencies all across the country -- need to start thinking of ourselves in another way.
We need to see ourselves as economic development agencies.
President Obama has highlighted the need to invest in infrastructure as part of his “grand bargain” to create good, middle class jobs.
First, there are the construction jobs that are critical to families and communities.
But the greatest impact of transportation is felt after the project is finished and a company can ship freight through Fort Worth or Chicago or up I-5 to Canada without a lengthy and costly delay.
It’s felt when a new project gives people easy access to an airport or a shopping center.
And, as Secretary Foxx reminds us, the value of transportation can be measured in something as simple as helping someone get home in time to go to a dance recital or a soccer game.
I hope you’ll join me in spreading this message. It’s an important message, and it’s going to become even more important as we work with Congress on future funding.
We’re transportation professionals. But we’re in the business of economic development.
One other message that’s very important to deliver consistently is a message about safety.
All of us in transportation work hard to make sure our roads and bridges are as safe as they can be. But the driver plays a critical role as well.
You can’t operate a car safely if you’re talking on the phone or sending a text. It’s just that simple.
41 states and the District of Columbia have laws that ban texting behind the wheel. I hope the next time I come back to Irving that my native state of Texas has joined that list.
So I hope you’ll join me in always urging people to pay attention on the road, especially around work zones, where a distracted driver is especially dangerous.
The best advice is the simplest: Always buckle your seat belt, put away your cell phone when you’re driving, pay attention to pedestrians and people riding bikes, and simply drive safely.
Thank you very much!
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