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Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters
Remarks as prepared for delivery
FHWA Office of Human Environment Livability Forum
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
Washington, D.C.

Forums like this give us a chance to share best practices and explore opportunities for partnerships.

No group can go it alone . . . we have to cooperate to succeed. It's all about collaboration today.

With strong support from Secretary Mineta, we at DOT are moving away from the silos, the narrow thinking of individual modes. Highways, rail, transit, motor carrier and aviation administrations are talking to each other and cooperating on projects and programs across modal lines. Partnership is particularly crucial on the security efforts that have occupied so much of our time since the tragic events of September 11.

We are doing a better job of understanding other points of view. After all, each of us is multi-modal. How did you get to this event? Did anyone only use only ONE mode to arrive at this room?

We have broadly defined livable communities as places where the young and old can walk, bike, and play together; where historic neighborhoods are preserved; where farms, forests, and other green spaces are protected; where parents spend less time in traffic and more time with their children, spouses, and neighbors; where older neighborhoods can thrive once again.

A livable community has safe streets, good schools, and public and private spaces that help foster a spirit of community. Who wouldn't want this kind of community?

Transportation policy and programs play a major role in the livability of our communities. Few other issues have as great an impact on our economic development, on the pattern of growth, or on the quality of life in our nation's communities. Every man, woman and child in our country has the right to expect us to provide a safe, accessible, affordable and reliable transportation system -- one that meets their varied mobility needs.

We owe the public a good return on their investment, based on the taxes they pay. In the private sector, this is termed a dividend . . . in the public sector, it is public value.

I've been administrator only since last October but I know FHWA has changed a lot in the past ten years.

The core of our work for 50 years was building the interstate system. That system is built. Today, we are deeply concerned with maintaining the system . . . rehabilitating parts of the system that are nearly half a century old . . . and improving how we operate the existing network of highways and bridges, as well as their connections to other modes of transportation.

We have an obligation to improve and reconstruct our transportation system. But we also have a strong obligation to protect the environment, improve livability and preserve our historic landmarks as we meet our nation's mobility needs.

As I began my tenure as Federal Highway Administrator, I thought it was important to check the rightness of our direction to ensure we are providing value. I asked our leadership team to do some self-analysis of the organization to assist me in this endeavor. I talked with Secretary Mineta and many others.

We recognized that we cannot be all things to all people . . . that we must focus on one core business. We are the highway component of a transportation department. That must be our primary focus and our responsibility.

After much spirited discussion, we identified the "Vital Few" areas we must concentrate on and calibrated our future direction. We tried to be realistic about our resources and what we could accomplish in the near term, the next three to five years.

Our vital few, our three must do's for the agency, are safety, environmental stewardship and streamlining, and congestion mitigation.

Let me add that security of our infrastructure and reauthorization of TEA-21 are very important. However, if we are not responsive to the vital few issues in the short-term, we won't be viable players in the long-term.

When you look carefully at the vital few, you see that livability is at the core of what we do.

First and foremost of our vital few is the safety of our nation's highway system. We still lose far too many lives to crashes -- more than 40,000 persons lose their lives every year on the nation's highway system. We believe we can do better than that. In addition, more than 3 million are injured, some very seriously.

Environmental stewardship and streamlining remains a critical priority. We are on a mission to fix the process. We can improve processes to make them more efficient and less duplicative while being respectful stewards of the environment.

It is not an either/or situation. We will work within USDOT and with other federal agencies, including CEQ, EPA, Interior, the Corps of Engineers, State DOTs and, of course, the environmental community to streamline processes.

If we succeed, we will have brought community voices into the process at the beginning. The community's first knowledge of a project should not be when the asphalt lay-down machine is in the neighborhood.

Congestion and bottlenecks damage air quality, slow commerce, increase energy consumption, and threaten our quality of life. They waste significant time, money and productivity.

Only a 16-year-old with a new license drives for the fun of it. Most of us do so because we need to.

At the end of the day, we need to give people choices, not mandates.

To quote Alan Pisarski who is moderating an afternoon panel: "Transportation policies should facilitate Americans' lifestyle choices, not thwart them."

I don't think that any of us would want to live in communities that are not safe and secure, that do not reflect environmental stewardship or that do not have measures in place to mitigate congestion. These communities would not be very livable.

So livability is at the heart of our vital few. It is at the core of what we do.

I strongly believe that land use decisions are state and local decisions and should remain that way.Communities know their own needs best. Coordination among the residents of a metropolitan region, state and local planning, zoning, and housing authorities, and environmental and transportation officials is of course critical.

For example, in Riverside County, California, they are actively implementing a Community Transportation Environment Plan which cuts across jurisdictional boundaries, with the participation from Federal, state, tribal, and local governments in addition to participation by citizens and businesses.

In the past we have not always acknowledged the fact that transportation decisions influence land use decisions and vice versa. We want to move away from the mindset that denies transportation's influence on local land use decisions. We all win when there is more coordination, more integration, between transportation and land use.

I also believe that there is clearly an opportunity for more dialogue between local decision makers and transportation professionals on how to strengthen the linkages between land use and transportation.

FHWA currently supports a number of programs that contribute to livability:

  • Transportation Enhancements Program,
  • Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ),
  • Transportation and Community and System Preservation Pilot Program (TCSP),
  • Metropolitan and Statewide Capacity Building Programs,
  • Planning, environmental, and real estate expertise that state and local governments may use,
  • Asset Management and Preservation Programs,
  • Operations and Management Programs,
  • Research in areas such as value pricing, modeling, and land use,
  • Expertise in context-sensitive design of transportation facilities,
  • Expertise in infrastructure design, maintenance, and preservation.

I expect this support will continue during the reauthorization process and in the new legislation, when it is passed. These programs are important.

I see Federal Highway's ongoing role as being a partner with state, regional, and local governments by providing technical expertise, funding, and research to assist communities in attaining goals they define.

Partnering is essential to successful livability initiatives.

We are all partners in protecting the country's economic vitality, quality of life, and the preserving our historic resources. We all want to improve transportation so citizens have mobility options.

We need to keep working together to find innovative ways to accommodate often conflicting issues. No one can go it alone.

Eventually we should reach a point where we do not need the term "livability" to define an essential part of the development process because it will be a routine, day-to-day way of doing business.

I look forward to receiving the recommendations that are developed in the working group discussions this afternoon. We can apply what you give us and use the recommendations to guide future partnerships.

We must continue to learn from each other, share best practices and figure out what works and what doesn't, so that we can operate more efficiently and effectively.

When we do so, we will truly be on the road to making livability everyone's business and everyone's responsibility.

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