Remarks as prepared for delivery
FHWA Acting Administrator Rick Capka
AASHTO Washington Briefing
February 7, 2006, Washington DC
I want to talk about SAFETEA-LU, specifically an update on implementation.
And then, I would like to offer some thoughts on what we need to do to keep the highway network strong, safe and efficient.
CELEBRATING A MILESTONE
To get started, I want to call attention to the major efforts of AASHTO and Federal Highways to bring national attention to the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System. It's a milestone for a system that is the backbone for our vibrant and growing economy.
We are saluting the thousands of men and women who made such an enormous contribution to the nation's economy, to the safety of all travelers, and to making America the most mobile society in history.
Our two organizations are partners on many projects -- this is one of our best. From the start on June 29, 1956, the Eisenhower Interstate System was known as the "Greatest Public Works Project in History." It's been called one of the "greatest achievements of the 20th century." In a physical sense, the interstate made us one nation, interconnected.
Or as President Eisenhower put it:
"Together, the united forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear -- United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts."
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Interstate System is an opportunity to recognize what it means to our economy and our way of life. And it's also an opportunity to look ahead to the next 50 years.
Right now, Federal Highways is concentrating on helping states with implementation of SAFETEA-LU.
Philosophically, the Bush Administration opts for guidance to states rather than rulemaking, whenever possible. We are using the web to keep everyone informed.
From the front of the FHWA web site, there is a SAFETEA-LU link. From there, clicking on the cross-reference tab will show guidance and rulemaking documents issued for S-LU programs. I'll highlight just a few.
Safety remains at the top of our list. SAFETEA-LU establishes new resources and opportunities to advance highway safety in a comprehensive, strategic manner. We're helping states develop data-driven highway safety programs focusing on results, and states have increased flexibility in how funds are spent.
SAFETEA-LU elevates the Highway Safety Improvement Program to a stand-alone core Federal-aid highway safety program. Because of the breadth of this important new program, regulations are not expected until 2007.
Early guidance on Strategic Highway Safety Plans was available in October and interim guidance for HSIP reporting requirements is expected this month. Guidance for the Safe Routes to Schools program was issued early last month. Guidance on high-risk rural roads is expected in April.
Planning and Environment
For planning and environment programs, a number of rulemaking and guidance documents have been released or are underway, including interim guidance on planning, environment and air quality issued in September 2005, only a month after enactment.
We were already on a path of improved collaboration between the transportation and environmental sectors. FHWA will continue efforts to streamline the process, cut through red tape, reduce delays and reach timely decisions that are good for both the environment and for transportation.
SAFETEA-LU made the first substantive revisions to Section 4(f) in almost 40 years. FHWA issued guidance in December, calling for collaboration among FHWA, states and officials with jurisdiction over 4(f) resources to jointly determine when impacts are minimal. When everyone agrees on minimal impact, the 4(f) process can be completed and additional study is not necessary. The process is streamlined -- delays are reduced.
Private Activity Bonds, increased flexibility for tolling, TIFIA loans, and State Infrastructure Banks are wonderful tools that will attract private sector investment and participation.
SAFETEA-LU gives us new ways to fund transportation and we need to use them. The Act is responding to the growing consensus among transportation officials and elected representatives that the financing system created during the Interstate System's infancy needs to be modernized.
Private sector investment and participation is critical. According to a report by Public Works Financing, PPP road projects completed by October of last year are valued at nearly $11 billion.
But now that S-LU has removed most hurdles at the federal level, think of the huge potential. Only 19 states have PPP laws now. More states should explore this funding option. We need our financial sector to get in the game -- to build on examples from other parts of the world.
More public officials are coming around to the idea of viewing transportation infrastructure as financial assets and not just liabilities. Good examples are the Chicago Skyway, the Indiana Turnpike, known as the "main street of the Midwest," and the Trans Texas Corridor.
The Act encourages states to use new flexibility for congestion pricing and tolling. The Federal Register Notice on FHWA tolling programs has been published.
A new Tolling and Pricing Opportunities Web site, with a link from the FHWA home page, covers all the programs. FHWA has received more than 40 expressions of interest ranging from new toll lanes to car-sharing initiatives.
As you may have heard, President Bush's budget proposal shows his ongoing commitment to innovative finance. He proposed a new Open Roads Financing Pilot Program to solicit ideas from states on innovative ways to better finance and manage the nation's highway system. The program is an opportunity for states to come up with creative ideas on financing for the future.
Highways for LIFE
The Highways for LIFE final Federal Register Notice will be published at the end of February. I want to emphasize that HfL is about doing things faster, safer, longer lasting and with better quality on the normal, everyday projects, not only the emergencies.
- SAFETEA-LU expanded the focus on freight with dedicated funds for:
- -- National Cooperative Freight Research Program
- -- Truck Parking Facilities Pilot Program
- -- Freight Professional Capacity Building
- And for infrastructure programs:
- -- Projects of National and Regional Significance
- -- National Corridor Infrastructure Improvement Program
- -- Freight Intermodal Distribution Pilot Grant Program
All these programs are part of the Department's new National Freight Policy. The policy had its first lengthy public discussion at TRB.
The U.S. freight system faces significant capacity constraints at key gateways. Bottlenecks are estimated to account for about 40 percent of vehicle hours of delay. They are found on highways serving major international gateways like the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, at major domestic freight hubs like Chicago, and in major urban areas where transcontinental freight lanes intersect congested urban freight routes.
U.S. DOT doesn't have the tools or the authority to remedy all the problems on its own. We are developing a National Freight Policy, not a federal freight policy.
Just as with overall transportation finance, effective solutions require coordinated action by public and private parties. This is a living work in progress. The policy will evolve, but action steps start soon.
As I said earlier, now is the time to look forward, and there are no easy solutions. Congestion is not going away. Tight budgets are not going away.
In addition to saving lives and protecting the environment, we have two key priorities now and for the next 50 years of the Interstate System.
First, tackle the congestion that chokes cities and frustrates drivers . . . the congestion that delays vital freight shipments and could strangle our economy.
Second, develop and use innovative ways to finance our infrastructure -- ways that give us more value for our investments and more investments to value.
Even as we implement SAFETEA-LU, we need to be thinking about the next reauthorization. The next act is less than four years away -- SAFETEA-LU expires September 30, 2009. The time is now to start working on a "Next Act."
The two finance-related commissions authorized by SAFETEA-LU will provide much-needed food for thought on financing alternatives and on future needs of the entire surface transportation system. The Secretary will be closely involved with the commissions. All of us at U.S. DOT are looking forward to working with them.
There is growing concern that traditional gas taxes are not sufficient to fund our surface transportation system in the future. We hope commission recommendations will give us a fundamental assessment of the most effective and sustainable ways to finance surface transportation infrastructure improvements into the future.
The AASHTO Washington Briefing has its focus on the year ahead and that's important. But we also need to move on long-range plans to keep America mobile and our economy strong.
That was the goal in 1956 and we succeeded spectacularly.
Mobility and a strong economy must be our goal in 2006 and for the next 50 years. I know Federal Highways and AASHTO will move ahead, together.