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Remarks by Victor Mendez, Administrator, FHWA
Kosciuszko Bridge DBE Workshop
New York, NY

Thursday, August 15, 2013

I want to thank our colleagues at the New York State Department of Transportation for all of the work that’s gone into hosting this workshop.

I also want to recognize Warren Whitlock and our FHWA Office of Civil Rights as well as Brandon Neal and the Department’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization for their continued efforts to keep everyone informed about potential business opportunities.

Workshops like this have been invaluable in helping us connect small and disadvantaged businesses with prime contractors to compete for work on federal projects worth more than $21 billion.

Through the session today – and others like it – we’re striving to give every company a fair shot to do the work America needs done.

A transportation project like this one will improve safety, increase traffic flow and help grow our economy.

And, of course, it will create jobs.

President Obama believes that investing in our infrastructure is one of the best ways to create jobs as part of his “better bargain for the middle class.”

The Kosciuszko Bridge is an excellent example of what we strive to accomplish.

The current bridge was completed in 1939 and has admirably connected the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens ever since.

Now, we have the opportunity to replace it with a state-of-the-art bridge, built with additional auxiliary lanes, wider shoulders and a lower profile.

These improvements will increase the efficiency of the Kosciuszko Bridge and make it safer for the 160,000 drivers who rely on it every day.

We want – and need – the small and disadvantaged business community to be part of this important work.

At the US Department of Transportation, our commitment to DBEs starts at the top with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

The Secretary makes it very clear that tapping the skill, the innovation and the good old-fashioned know-how of America’s small and disadvantaged businesses is not only the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.

For more than four years now, under President Obama’s leadership, we’ve been rebuilding America’s economy by rebuilding America.

Do we still have work to do? Absolutely. While our economy created 162,000 jobs in July, we need to create more. But I have no doubt we’re headed in the right direction.

We can create a lot of good-paying jobs by preparing America’s infrastructure for the 21st century, which President Obama calls building an America that’s built to last.

The tools for infrastructure investment are on our work table.

MAP-21, our authorizing legislation that’s been around for about a year now, guarantees transportation funding levels for two years and includes $81 billion for highways and $21 billion for transit capital investments.

To build on the momentum of MAP-21, President Obama has continued to lay out his plan to put people to work repairing our roads and bridges and to help our nation compete by investing in the new transportation solutions we need.

His Fix It First proposal would invest $50 billion in our nation’s infrastructure, with $40 billion targeted to the most urgent upgrades and repairs in states across the country. 

MAP-21 also makes a dramatic increase in the TIFIA program, which provides more flexible ways to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance.

These tools help big investments and lay the groundwork for big opportunities for America’s small and disadvantaged businesses.

Finally, I’m especially proud that MAP-21 puts into law many of the project delivery innovations we’re advancing through an initiative called Every Day Counts. The sooner we can get projects under construction, the sooner we can put people to work.

That’s where the DBE community comes in. We need your ideas and your energy. We need people who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work on the frontlines of building an America built to last.

This workshop builds on the lessons we’ve learned from the successes of others.
One is to start the outreach process early so that everyone has time to set goals and come up with a plan for meeting them.

This allows time for small businesses to team up with potential mentors and business partners that will be managing the projects.

And, by starting early we allow time for workforce training and development, so people are ready to step in and do the work when it becomes available.

That’s why I wanted to be here today -- to underscore the importance of the networking and collaborating.

But this workshop is only part of a much larger effort by USDOT and the Obama administration to help level the playing field for all Americans and American businesses.

Over the past two years we’ve been reviewing our entire civil rights program.

That includes making sure we’re doing everything possible to ensure a level playing field for disadvantaged businesses.

As you may know, we’ve raised the personal net worth threshold for a DBE owner from $750,000 to $1.24 million. And we’re taking a number of steps to make sure DBEs have a fair chance to compete for work on highway projects:

These include:

  • Examining how to improve inter-state DBE certification by hosting the required documents on a cloud-based web platform;

  • Providing greater oversight of the program through our Division Offices;

  • Developing metric-based milestones for measuring the success rate of our DBE Supportive Services programs;

  • Working with other modes at the Department to make sure the DBE program is applied consistently;

  • Working with external stakeholders to provide bonding education;

  • Working closely with states to de-bundle projects for small contractors;

  • Fostering greater collaboration with small contractors, state DOTs and others in the industry to ensure fair opportunity for DBEs;

  • And ensuring greater consistency and clarity by State DOTs in their Civil Rights practice.

All of this is intended to give DBEs a better chance to compete for work on major projects.

We need to keep alive the entrepreneurial spirit that burns so brightly in small and disadvantaged businesses all across the country.

President Obama said, “We are greater together than we are on our own. Our country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules.”

That’s what our DBE programs are all about – an opportunity for everyone to help build an America that’s built to last.

Thank you very much for inviting me to join you today.

And remember 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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Page posted on August 19, 2013.
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