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Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Mississippi Valley Conference of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Thursday, July 18, 2002, Chicago, Illinois

We all want transportation systems that assure mobility, safety and security . . . they add up to a better quality of life for all Americans. And we pledge to work as partners with every Mississippi Valley state to work toward that end.

As we have calibrated our direction at FHWA, we listened carefully to what you, our customers, told us about where we should focus. With this input, we have established the key priorities for our agency. As you've probably heard, they are Safety, Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining, and Congestion Mitigation. Other top concerns are security and reauthorization.


While each of these areas is important, this morning, I want to concentrate on one of them, congestion.

Transportation Secretary Mineta considers mobility "one of our greatest freedoms," He says, "Unless we manage highway congestion, our nation will continue to incur economic costs in forgone productivity, wasted fuel, and a reduced quality of life."

The Secretary also says that, "Strategic expansion of our transportation system capacity is necessaryin certain instances to address our existing and growing mobility needs," and I strongly concur with this position.

Unless we make progress against congestion, I think the situation will get worse for us as individuals and for our nation as a whole. Congestion and bottlenecks damage air quality and increase energy consumption. They waste significant time and money, and they reduce productivity. You recognize that congestion is a serious problem in your states, and you know the difficulties we face in combating it.

I could spend time putting the situation in historical perspective, but maybe it is enough to say that congestion is a very old problem. People have complained about traffic through most of history. Even in ancient Rome, frustrated citizens barred delivery carts during daylight hours to ease traffic jams.

I could give a statisticalperspective. But maybe it is enough to offer just a few demonstrative figures. The 2001 Urban Mobility Study published by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) estimates the cost of traffic congestion in just 68 urban areas at $78 billion in 1999. By the way, Chicago is ranked third worst in the TTI travel time index, behind only Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I could share storiesabout delays. But maybe its enough to say that rush "hour" is now called a.m. rush and p.m. rush in many cities, and in fact it never really goes away.

President Bush has said, "Good beginnings are not the measure of success. What matters in the end is completion. Performance. Results." I am going to concentrate on what FHWA is doing about congestion. We have identified what we believe needs to be done and we are going, as the President advises, for "performance and results."


Congestion is being addressed with a long-term comprehensive strategy to increase capacity, to make the system more efficient, and to preserve the nation's system of roads and bridges.

We must add capacity where it is needed. New capacity is part of an effective strategy for addressing congestion -- not the whole answer, but it definitely must be part of the solution. We also can do a better job of managing the transportation system, making it operate more efficiently, and squeezing out additional capacity. This won't make congestion go away, but it can reduce congestion levels and make the system more reliable.

The public tells us the most important things to them are reliability and predictability.

FHWA is focusing our efforts on three areas where we believe we can do the most good in improving reliability and predictability:

  • through effective state and local partnerships,
  • significantly improved response to traffic incidents,
  • and by relieving congestion in highway work zones.

Regarding partnerships, we are working with you to increase coordination among agencies responsible for roadway operations, including traffic, public safety, parking, media, and emergency response agencies. Some of this coordination already takes place, but perhaps not enough. Congestion is a national problem, but solutions are definitely local.

We want to assist state and local congestion relief partnerships to implement your locally determined strategies. Partnerships need to be formed with the right people at the table, including representatives from both the transportation and public safety communities, to combat both recurring and non-recurring congestion.

On traffic incidents -- By 2007, we want to work with states with the 75 largest metropolitan areas to establish or improve aggressive traffic incident management programs.

FHWA divisions will champion innovative solutions to reduce traffic incident delays . . . the crashes, disabled vehicles, disruptive weather and other non-recurring issues that make up about half of all congestion. That means quicker detection of incidents through methods that include wireless enhanced 9-1-1. It also means rapid response and clearance of incidents while protecting the safety of responders and travelers through effective traffic control, corridor traffic management, and current traffic information. Better incident management can mean the difference between clearing a major incident in one hour rather than several hours.

In Will County, Illinois (Joliet area SW of Chicago), Bill Parks, President of Transport Towing, Inc., and an active member of the Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee Corridor Incident Management Work Group, has lead a team effort in traffic incident management. This effort involves his company and other towing companies, the Will County Sheriff, the Will County Emergency Management Agency, The Illinois State Police, and several local police and fire departments.

This Southwest Regional Incident Management Subgroup recently conducted a successful incident reenactment to demonstrate that traffic mobility, responder and motorist safety can be achieved through multi-agency cooperation, coordination and training.

In dealing with recurringcongestion, we can achieve smoother flow and more efficient use of existing facilities with advanced traffic control systems, and other operational improvements such as merge lanes and collection-distribution lanes. A dramatic demonstration was the shutting down of the ramp meter system in Minnesota. Without that system in place, travel time increased nearly 25 percent; speed decreased 7 percent; and crashes increased 26 percent. At the end of the test, ramp metering was restored with strong public support.

Managing day-to-day or recurring congestion also means encouraging travelers to take public transit, work from home, or otherwise delay or avoid trips when the system is under the most stress. There is a limit to how much capacity we can squeeze from technology-aided operations. Recurring congestion can be better managed, but not eliminated.

The third area we are concentrating on is work zones. By working together, we can do a better job of managing work zones. This will yield safer conditions for our employees and contractors and minimize disruption for the traveling public. We will measure progress using the Work Zone Best Practices Self-Assessment Tool.

That means --

  • "Get-in, get-out, stay-out" techniques to reduce the frequency of, and traveler exposure to, work zones. Public input while I was Arizona DOT director was that this is more important to them than cost.
  • More use of longer-lasting materials, innovative construction techniques, better project phasing, use of contract provisions such as design-build, incentive-disincentive clauses, total road closures, and night-only work.
  • More techniques focused on better operations in work zones, such as use of traffic analysis and modeling techniques like QuickZone to predict work zone impacts.
  • Other operations tools such as traffic management plans for each construction project; traveler information with techniques such as dynamic message signs, 511, websites, and highway advisory radio. There is a good article on these operations tools in the current issue (May/June) of Public Roads Magazine.

One thing we can do to better address congestion, regardless of its cause, is to provide high-quality traveler information to folks trying to use the system. People tell us, "If you can't make congestion go away, at least tell me where and how bad it is, so I can decide what to do."

We have focused our traveler information program on deployment of the 511 traveler information telephone number nationwide. I congratulate Minnesota on the activation of its statewide 511 system on July 1. Minnesota has joined Cincinnati and four other states and metropolitan areas with active 511 services, and I know that many of you are working on implementing service as well.

FHWA has recently began an innovative approach to improving traffic flow in work zones. We have entered into cooperative agreements with Mississippi Valley member Michigan, as well as with Virginia and Maryland, for an 18-month operational test of variable speed limits in work zones. Congratulations, Michigan, on being the first state to begin testing!


If we are to make real progress in relieving traffic congestion, we must work together with a comprehensive approach that includes more efficient highway and transit systems. Again, new roads and expanded roads, where appropriate, are part of the solution. Sometimes it is about, asphalt, concrete, and steel. We also need more traffic management centers, better signal timing, metering at highway entrances and real-time traveler information.

And additional strategies to reduce demand such as telecommuting, HOV facilities, incentives to ride-share or use transit, more encouragement for walking and bicycling -- play a part as well. You could certainly add to this list. I just want to emphasize that it will take a combination of many strategies if we are going to succeed.


I can't conclude without mentioning Asset Management -- a new way of thinking about resource allocation and utilization decisions. Its use will result in better results in the preservation, improvement, and operation of infrastructure assets. It can be a big help in our work on congestion.

Essentially, Asset Management is a new business approach that is more strategic than tactical. It is fact-based and more focused on the long-term rather than on immediate consequences. It is also more customer-oriented and performance-driven.

How does Asset Management fit in with our top priorities? It lays the foundation for making the best possible decisions about how, for example, to "get-in, get-out, and stay-out." When fully implemented, it will assist states in finding that "optimal" investment mix that will best address user requirements while generating the highest return-on-investment.

Asset Management is new to transportation. As most of you know, our Office of Asset Management was created just a little over three years ago. Through our partnership with AASHTO, we have made great strides. However, much remains to be done.

Although all states are now pursuing some component of Asset Management, it is safe to say that no state has yet achieved a comprehensive Asset Management approach. It is clear that a great many states see the benefits and, frankly the need, and are moving to adopt Asset Management concepts and principles.

It is not possible for a State DOT to say that it doesn't see the need to make more effective data-driven decisions -- especially in this era of shrinking resources and heightened citizen involvement. You are, after all, CEOs of multi-billion dollar organizations.

I encourage you to make Asset Management a reality across the country.


The Federal Highway Administration is committed to working with AASHTO and all our partners at the state and local levels. We want to maintain, operate, and improve our highway systems, to enhance security and safety, and to reduce congestion and improve mobility.

We face safety and capacity challenges. There are no silver bullets. We need to utilize every approach I've mentioned and others as well.

We look forward to working you over the coming year to ensure that a safe and efficient transportation system continues to support a strong economy and improve the quality of life for all our people.

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Page last modified on September 14, 2012.
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