Remarks by Victor Mendez, Administrator, FHWA
American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Fall Conference
Monday, October 28, 2013
It's a great pleasure to be back in Arizona. I appreciate the chance to join you at your Fall Conference.
Earlier this month, we marked the 120th anniversary of FHWA.
A Civil War hero named General Roy Stone was the first person to head the agency, which was originally known as the Office of Road Inquiry.
Congress gave General Stone a $10,000 budget along with strict orders not to spend any of it building roads!
But he saw the value in forming partnerships with state and local governments and the growing number of road advocates that were springing up across the country.
It was a valuable example that FHWA follows to this day.
We're proud to work closely with partners like ACEC to bring safe, efficient transportation to the American people.
Our new transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, believes very strongly in the importance of partnerships.
He knows that working closely with our stakeholders is the best way to achieve the goals he's set for the Department.
First and foremost, we're going to focus on safety and making sure our system is the safest and most efficient in the world.
Second, we're going to make sure infrastructure continues to play a key role in creating jobs, growing our economy and helping our businesses compete.
And, third, we're going to unleash the power of transportation to improve people's lives and connect them to jobs, education, and health care.
That's a tall order.
But in founding FHWA 120 years ago, General Stone also started us down another path that's still important today.
He urged people to "think big." In fact, he's quoted as saying, "It's often easier to do great things than small ones."
The question we all face as an industry is how can we continue to think big and build big in a time when budgets are tight and partisanship runs high?
We were all pleased when President Obama signed MAP-21 more than 15 months ago.
It promised two years of certainty to states and local governments so they could plan and invest in projects that would create jobs and improve communities.
But MAP-21 basically held the status quo for two years. Next summer, we'll be back facing the same challenge of finding a sustainable way to fund our surface transportation programs.
There's not a whole lot new to report in terms of the next reauthorization.
In general, I expect the next bill will make few changes on the policy side.
MAP-21 made significant changes in policy, especially with the focus on performance measurement.
We've worked with our stakeholders to develop performance measures in key areas, like safety, pavement and bridge condition, system performance and freight movement.
And we're on schedule to publish the first proposed rule – safety – later this year.
The next reauthorization will be primarily about funding so our system can continue to meet the needs of a growing population and a competitive economy.
If you want a sense of how great the need for funding is, consider this: We just awarded our 5th round of TIGER grants.
Across those five rounds we provided more than $3.6 billion to 270 projects.
But we got applications for more than 5,200 projects seeking more than $114 BILLION in funding.
Clearly, we need to find political consensus on how to fund transportation going forward.
The Department and the Administration are ready to sit down with Congress any time to begin the discussion.
I'm hopeful that the same sense of bipartisanship that's always been a hallmark of our transportation policy – and that helped make MAP-21 possible – will lead to success once again.
In the current political climate, that's going to be a tall order.
But we have to uphold our part of the bargain as well.
We have to show Congress and the public that if they're willing to invest in transportation, we can deliver projects in the most timely and cost-effective way possible.
We have to show that we're focused on the fundamental goals of making government more efficient and more effective.
In my view, innovation is the way we're going to get there.
For the past three years, we've focused our innovation efforts through our Every Day Counts initiative.
ACEC has been a partner in Every Day Counts from the beginning, along with state and local governments, contractors and other transportation stakeholders.
EDC is the ultimate collaboration.
It recognizes the fact that no one has all the answers – not one agency, not the government, not the private sector.
Everyone has something to contribute to help deliver projects sooner, improve safety, put people to work and protect the environment.
ACEC has certainly made some important contributions.
For example, your leadership has been a tremendous help in developing and implementing the Round Two initiative to improve environmental documents.
This initiative is going to improve the quality – and reduce the length – of NEPA documents, which will help expedite the project delivery process.
As you know, the State Transportation Innovation Councils – or STICs – have become the platforms for advancing innovation in each state.
The STICs are bringing public and private sector stakeholders together to identify Every Day Counts strategies or technologies that address a state's specific needs.
I know ACEC is playing an important role in STICs all across the country.
But since we're here in Arizona, let's use this state as an example.
According to our team, ACEC is an active member of the STIC, known here as the Arizona Council for Transportation Innovation.
ACEC members on the Council continue to be very supportive of EDC and innovation in general.
Specifically, Janice Burnett, Stacey McCaleb and Frank Medina have represented ACEC well in leading the effort to deploy innovation here in Arizona.
If Janice, Stacey and Frank are here today, please stand so we can recognize you.
STICs play another important role beyond deploying specific innovations.
They're the foundation for creating a culture of innovation in each state.
And as the STICs become well established, they'll form a national network of partners dedicated to advancing innovation.
OTHER ACEC PARTNERSHIP
I'm also pleased to say that we collaborate with ACEC in other important areas.
We've worked with you and AASHTO to improve compliance by public and private sector stakeholders in the federal contracting process.
The latest phase of this effort is a series of educational seminars that we hold jointly for members of your firms, state DOT auditors and contract administrators, and our own Division Office personnel.
The goals of this program are very important. We want to improve compliance with federal rules and provide better risk management and oversight.
The bottom line is we want to give the public confidence that its tax dollars are being spent wisely.
Let me close with a word about our Number One priority – safety.
We work with partners like you to make our roads and bridges as safe as possible.
But the driver plays a critical role in safety as well.
Secretary Foxx has said he wants to continue the national conversation about the dangers of distracted driving.
41 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books banning texting behind the wheel.
I hope the next time I visit our host state of Arizona, they'll be added to that list.
But we can improve safety a lot if we just exercise common sense.
So let me remind you 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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