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Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters
Remarks as prepared for delivery
WASHTO Annual Meeting Opening Session
Monday, July 19, 2004, Kalispell, Montana

It's great to be here in Kalispell in the great state of Montana. And it's great to be here with my good friends from WASHTO.

There's a lot going on across the nation, especially when it comes to improving safety, relieving congestion and enhancing the environment. I want to offer congratulations to all of you for the progress we've made together.

On the environment and congestion mitigation, for the most part, we're headed in the right direction. But we're losing ground when it comes to safety so I want to highlight some programs that will help us save more lives.


The good news is that we are making progress on congestion mitigation, just as we are with environmental streamlining and stewardship. Make no mistake, much more needs to be done.

The American people want both a high quality transportation system and a healthy environment. We're working on the single largest challenge to environmental streamlining, and that's the costly and counter-productive length of time to complete most environmental reviews. For the first six months of 2004, the average time it takes to complete an EIS is down to 50 months, putting FHWA on target to meet its 36 month goal by 2007. That's a 38 percent reduction from a high of 80 months in fiscal 2002. The average was 68 months in fiscal 2003.

This is great progress, but we all need to keep pushing to stay on track.

  1. We're learning valuable lessons, especially the importance of -- --

    Appropriate staffing,
    Early coordination among agencies and project sponsors,
    Defining responsibilities, and,
    Agreeing on schedules.

  2. To solidify our progress, we need legislative changes.

President Bush's SAFETEA legislation would clarify the role of states and project sponsors in expedited review procedures. It would delegate authority for certain approvals to states. And it would impose a 180-day statute of limitations for filing legal challenges to Federal environmental approvals of highway and transit projects.

Here are some examples of streamlining progress in WASHTO states:

I want to thank Rod Haraga of Hawaii for championing the partnering session with the consulting industry to raise the bar on the quality of our consulting documents.

We cannot spend months editing and forcing the consultant into a position of "guessing the answer that I've got in my head." The idea for that effort started here in WASHTO a little over a year ago and is now a national initiative.

I also want to recognize:

Washington State DOT and Doug McDonald for the Alaska Way Viaduct Draft EIS that is in a reader-friendly format.

John Njord for the Utah quality team aimed at improving the quality of environmental documents.

North Dakota for completing an EIS on Bismarck's Memorial Bridge in 18 1/2 months.

Some outstanding agreements have been achieved with Resource Agencies:

Arizona recently received an award from the Bureau of Land Management for an MOU that will reduce the process of land transfers from months to 45 days.

Wyoming is working on a groundbreaking MOU with the Forest Service that will reduce consultation to one "reconciliation meeting" a year.

Oregon institutionalized an outstanding consultation and dispute resolution process that was recently successfully tested.

And there are many others . . . too many to mention them all.

One of our measures for stewardship is the establishment of exemplary ecosystems. By our count, the West is leading the nation with "official" systems in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and California, and many more "unofficial systems."

Congratulations to Wyoming and Montana for putting in place a formal policy on context sensitive design.

ADOT just completed its most rigorous context sensitive, public outreach effort ever, the Sedona Context Sensitive Project in conjunction with planned improvements along scenic State Route 179. This nine-month effort followed the completion of the NEPA process, and resulted in a "context sensitive solution" which calls for an enhanced two-lane roadway with curb and gutter, shoulders, bike lanes, multi-use pathways, scenic turnouts, roundabouts, and a raised center median.

These examples of what we've done give us a good idea of the great things we can accomplish in the years just ahead.


Now, let me move from environment to congestion.

Is it getting worse? Yes.

Congestion extends to more time of the day, to more roads, affects more travel, and creates more extra travel time than in the past.

And congestion levels have risen in cities of all sizes since 1982, indicating that even less urbanized areas are not able to keep pace with rising demand. One study states that drivers lose about 50 hours a year during peak periods, and that costs every American more than $520 per year!

As you've probably heard me say, there is no silver bullet that will relieve traffic congestion by itself. Although we do need more roads and infrastructure, we must get maximum use out of our existing system. I draw hope from how we continue to work closely with states and with AASHTO to tackle the most visible and aggravating causes of congestion -- such as work zones, traffic incidents, and poor signal timing -- and implement strategies and technologies that make travel more efficient and reliable.

I'm particularly enthusiastic about HOT lanes and other tolling options.

Under current law, it is generally not permissible for single occupancy vehicles to pay a toll to use an HOV facility. The Bush Administration supports HOT lanes as a tool to improve traffic flow.

President Bush and Secretary Mineta believe that states should have the flexibility they need -- the tools in their toolbox -- to make decisions that suit their specific traffic conditions. And that means states should have the right to implement HOT lanes when they help people get to their jobs, their families, or wherever they need to go, and to get there on time

HOT lanes are a common sense approach to managing traffic. And in places where they have been tested or implemented, there is overwhelming public support.

Here are some congestion-busting examples from WASHTO states:

Capital programs are underway in Nevada, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.

T-REX (Colorado) progress and budget continue to remain strongly on track for completion on time and within budget for this $1.67 billion multi-modal, design/build effort. Cooperation between Colorado DOT and the local transit district has been phenomenal. The contractor, FTA and FHWA have done their share as well.

One area we can improve on is Work Zones. How many of us are still letting out contracts in the spring and allowing a contractor to set up equipment (orange barrels) all over the state, then schedule work "as he gets to it?" Those barrels on seemingly empty lanes will gradually erode the public trust that repairs are really coming.

The work that Washington State DOT is doing on incident management was highlighted in a letter last month sent to all Division Administrators. WSDOT has achieved a seven-minute reduction in incident clearance time over a three-month assessment period. The incident clearance time dropped from 17 minutes to ten minutes -- a reduction of over 40 percent. WSDOT incident response teams responded to 6,300 incidents during this period with 3,700, or half of the incidents, attributed to disabled vehicles.

The reduction in congestion and delay by energized incident response teams can be significant.

Finally we have to communicate -- one of the measures that we are tracking is 511 deployment.

Western states lead the nation with the launches this past year in Washington - statewide, Kansas, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota. Arizona started its 511 system more than a year ago, and has since received an FHWA model deployment grant to upgrade and enhance to "Voice Recognition" and to provide quick, short version summary travel reports -- both of which are now operational. Travel condition information is also readily available on a well publicized website: http://www.az511.com


Let me take a moment now to address the "elephant in the room" -- reauthorization.

The path has been full of twists and turns, with limited visibility around the next bend. We have had four (five?) extensions so far since TEA-21 expired -- something none of us would have envisioned last September.

The structure of the six-year Administration bill, inspired by the successes of ISTEA and TEA-21, provides states with high levels of certainty and funding flexibility that in turn would lead to better project development and decision-making.

What we have now is a high level of uncertainty, and multi-year construction projects need certainty to move forward.


Well, I've touched on environment and congestion and taken a side trip to reauthorization.

On safety, as I said, we're losing ground and precious lives.

Although the fatality rate was unchanged last year, the number of fatalities was up. More than 43,000 people died in 2003 on our roads. That's a sad, sad statistic. Highway fatalities have increased for five consecutive years. That's unacceptable to President Bush, it's unacceptable to Secretary Mineta, it's unacceptable to me, and I know it's unacceptable to you.

You may know that motorcycle and SUV fatalities were both up by an astounding 11 percent 2003. Even worse, work zone fatalities are up 55 percent since 1998.

We know that improving safety will have a significant effect, not only in terms of human lives but in dollars as well. The economic cost of motor vehicle crashes is staggering. When you take into account property damage, medical costs, lost productivity and the like, vehicle crashes cost us $230 billion every year.

The WASHTO share of that total exceeds $68 billion annually.

Stemming the tide of fatalities will require action on a number of fronts.

  • Under the Administration's SAFETEA proposal, we can improve safety and create economic opportunity in an affordable, cost-efficient way.

  • Additional investment in safety will help deliver countermeasures sooner.

  • We are working with Bruce Warner and the Standing Committee on Highway Traffic Safety (SCOHTS) to plan Safety Summit II next spring.

  • Two lane roads provide a special challenge. Data for the Western states show that two-lane roads are a problem for many of you. Even though those roads may not be your roads, are federal funds flowing to where the problem is? That is what the Secretary is asking me.

Although I am concerned about the overall success of our safety efforts, there are many bright spots where Western states are stepping up for safety.

  • The Western States lead the United States in raising the level of safety belt usage. South Dakota and Utah reported an increase of more than five percent in belt use last year. Colorado's rate went up 4.5 percent. And right now Hawaii is poised to join Washington State in leading the nation with a usage rate of 95 percent (up three percent from last year!) Congratulations to both of you!

  • Rural Run Off the Road fatalities are going up and rumble strips are being aggressively pursued and are saving lives in virtually all states.

  • South Dakota Safety Research Project -- SDDOT has started an effort to identify reasons why the crash and fatality rates in the state are much greater than the national average. The Governor has appointed a task force to look at all aspects of this problem and a research study will examine law enforcement issues, road design, education efforts, and safety belt use.

  • UDOT has a made safety a leadership priority at every senior management meeting and it shows -- Utah has the second best trend line in the nation when looking at the change in fatality rate over time -- that's a great effort!

  • Eleven of the 18 WASHTO States have recognized the value of comprehensive safety plans and already have one or have started the development of a statewide plan. That takes a leadership commitment and it shows in states like:

-- Montana, where MDT Director Dave Galt is advancing the State's Comprehensive Safety Planning Process and he has been personally involved in establishing a multi-agency executive level Safety Steering Committee.

-- Nevada, where they hosted a comprehensive state "Safety Summit" just last month.

-- Alaska DOT partnered with an extensive set of safety stakeholders and held a Safety Stewardship Conference this spring.

-- And Arizona, who just made the leadership commitment to move on a safety leadership event and create a plan.

Congratulations. You are showing what it takes to make safety a leadership priority. And to save lives, we must lead.


I want to emphasize that the Federal Highway partnership with WASHTO has never been more important. Our partnership is crucial to helping President Bush and Secretary Mineta carry out their commitment to invest in transportation infrastructure and keep the economy strong and getting stronger.

In coming months and years, we mobility professionals have an opportunity to help shape our nation's future and move America toward a more prosperous future. There is crucial work we must do together to make our roads safer, to make them less congested, and to make them more environmentally friendly.

The next time I come to WASHTO, I want to be able to talk about success across the board!


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