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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 59· No. 4 > Road Tours: Reaching Out to the People

Spring 1996
Vol. 59· No. 4

Road Tours: Reaching Out to the People

by Evelyn Fierro

From coast to coast, border to border, through Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is conducting the most extensive outreach in its 103-year history. In all, some 80,000 kilometers will be covered, and hundreds of meetings will be held with thousands of people who use, construct, maintain, and manage our transportation system. We are listening, we are learning,and we are responding.

The "road tours" began in early 1994, when Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater, inspired by the then proposed National Highway System, set out to tell the country that highways and roads were about more than concrete, asphalt, and steel. They are about people and the quality of the lives they lead. The administrator was guided by the President's charge to put people first and to execute effectively and efficiently our very important role in helping to rebuild America.

Deputy Administrator Jane Garvey has done a number of road tours, including a trip through Oklahoma where she paid tribute to the men and women who were victims of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in April 1995.

FHWA Road Tours map.

The routes shown in bold indicate the areas that have been covered as part of FHWA's continuing series of road tours with the people who use, construct, maintain, and manage our transportation system.

Likewise, Executive Director Tony Kane and other members of the senior staff have joined road tours throughout the country.

During the summer of 1995, FHWA's nine regional administrators and 52 division administrators completed tours throughout their respective regions and states.

Beginning of Slater's 14-day road tour.Administrator Slater's first road tour in April 1994 started from the Canadian border at Buffalo, N.Y., in a motor home converted to a rolling office. Through inclement weather, the tour took Slater and some members of his staff through the industrial states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. We met community, business, and transportation leaders; entrepreneurs; youth corps participants; and bicycle enthusiasts.

Through Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri, Slater learned of the destructive and disruptive power of the floods of '93 from people whose homes and livelihoods had been endangered. We visited the areas that had been so devastated, and we saw anew the rich tapestry of communities that has revitalized a region.

Throughout the Mississippi Delta region, the administrator talked with common folk, mayors, and legislators. We heard story after story about the roads and bridges that tie communities together. We saw firsthand the Delta region's economic rejuvenation - due in large part to improved transportation systems. We visited the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss., and walked the Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg.

The most poignant stop during this 14-day, 5,600-kilometer tour was Henning, Tenn. - population 1,200. As we rolled into town quite early in the morning, 77-year-old Mayor Fred Montgomery was waving from his porch. Montgomery and his family welcomed us with a sumptuous Southern breakfast. Later, the mayor gave us a tour of the boyhood home of the late author Alex Haley. Haley's home has been converted into a museum celebrating the life of Haley and the rich characters he brought us in the epic Roots. The mayor also serves as the curator of the museum. As we were about to leave, the administrator and the mayor were standing on the Haley porch, and Slater noted a slab of concrete off to the side on the front lawn. He was surprised to learn it was Haley's grave. As he paid his respects, he saw the inscription, "Find the Good and Praise It." These words caught us all by surprise and moved the administrator. Henceforth, he continually has captured the essence of the road tours as an opportunity to "Find the Good and Praise It."

On through the Delta to Louisiana and down through Texas, we rolled along. We met local leaders and toured the port of New Orleans, viewed the Tchoupitoulas Corridor, stopped in the port of West St. Mary, met with transportation leaders in Houston and Corpus Christi, and rode a bus through the heart of Texas.

On the 14th day, we pulled into the border town of Laredo with the administrator maintaining his characteristic enthusiasm and energy. On hand were dozens of border inspectors and truck drivers. Slater donned overalls and rolled underneath a rig with an inspector. Later, he talked with long-haul truck drivers and made presentations to FHWA staff in the Office of Motor Carriers.

Tour ends in Laredo, Texas.

In the fall of 1994 on the New England road tour, we rolled through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, we saw the famed riverwalk that has re-energized the inner city of Providence.

Adminstrator Slater meets with Memphis' Mayor Herenton.In April 1995, it was five states in five days through the South - from Montgomery, Ala., on through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. Again, Slater reached out to mayors and community and business leaders. In Montgomery, Slater announced the award of funds for the preservation of the Montgomery Bus Station, a recognized civil rights landmark. In Georgia, we saw a number of small communities as they prepared for the upcoming Summer Olympic Games. In South Carolina, we visited the new BMW plant that has helped transform a region. In North Carolina, we visited a university turning out future transportation leaders. In Virginia, we witnessed the preservation of a historic rail station and later in Richmond paid respects at the grave of Logan Page, who served as director of public roads from 1905 to 1910. Page's Office of Public Roads evolved into FHWA.

Later in 1995, the administrator toured the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, including Maryland and Northern Virginia. In August, he visited the island of Puerto Rico. In late summer, it was a whirlwind two-day road tour from San Francisco and Oakland in Northern California, where work continues on earthquake-related projects, to Los Angeles and San Diego, where the administrator took an aerial tour of the border with Mexico.

Administrator Slater and his team have responded to the needs we heard expressed and observed during these road tours. We have responded with changed procedures and regulations to better work with our partners in service to our customers. We have responded with innovative financial procedures that have helped advance stalled projects throughout our country. In this time of challenge, we have sought to become a government agency characterized by vision and vigilance in our work in partnerships to serve the American people.

The road tours will continue throughout 1996, as a means of focusing on implementation of the National Highway System and identifying best practices as we approach reauthorization of ISTEA. This is the tie that binds. Linking people. Linking communities. Energizing the economy for the challenges of a new millennium.

Evelyn Fierro is special assistant to FHWA Administrator Slater. She has served as the chief coordinator of the road tours. Fierro is the former mayor of South Pasadena, Calif., and a former news producer for KNBC News in Los Angeles.

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