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Remarks as prepared for delivery
Rick Capka, FHWA Administrator
50th Anniversary of the Interstate System
Eisenhower National Historical Site, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the day President Eisenhower signed federal legislation that began the "Greatest Public Works Project in History"-- our Interstate Highway System.

What a wonderful and historic site to select for today's celebration! Not only is it the home of President Eisenhower, whose vision launched our Interstate system, it is also along the Lincoln Highway.

Middletown, the place that I call home and where my Dad and his family grew up, is not too far from here and I can remember riding along the Lincoln highway knowing that it was the most direct means of going coast to coast. In many respects, the Lincoln Highway tied the nation together.

A reliable and efficient transportation system is the fabric that enables a collection of geographically separated communities to become a unified nation with a common identity. The interstate system is the centerpiece of our transportation system.

Secretary Mineta said at the kick-off of this convoy in San Francisco almost two weeks ago, that the interstate act "did more to bring Americans together than almost any other law of the last century."

There are other great highway pioneering accomplishments in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is the grandfather -- the predecessor -- of the national system. That original 160-mile roadway, opened in 1940, revolutionized automobile travel in the U.S.

The Penn Turnpike was the first roadway that had no cross streets, no railroad crossings, and no traffic lights over its entire length. It was a four-lane superhighway with seven tunnels bored through the Allegheny Mountains.

Now that we have a nationwide system, it is hard to imagine how special a trip on the turnpike was back then. According to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, planners in the early days predicted 1.3 million vehicles would use the turnpike each year, but early actual usage was 2.4 million.

While we celebrate the past 50 years, we must not lose sight of the fact that planning for the next 50 years is our responsibility today.

Congestion is one of the most prominent threats to the continued effectiveness of our highway system. We need to think about how we must continue to build, operate and maintain the system that keeps the American economy moving forward. I am happy to report that we are well on our way to doing just that.

First and foremost, we have a new surface transportation act, which includes tools for states looking to keep ahead of congestion. It gives states more flexibility to use congestion pricing, tolling, and other promising approaches, and it expands options for innovative financing. Plus, it promotes the use of state-of-the-art technology and improved building practices that will speed construction and lead to safer, longer-lasting roads and bridges.

We know that reining in traffic congestion is crucial in Pennsylvania and across the country because it wastes fuel, wastes time, and robs the economy of productivity.

The numbers are incredible.

  • Whether it takes the form of trucks stalled in traffic, cargo sitting on the dock at overwhelmed seaports, or airplanes circling over crowded airports, congestion is costing America an estimated $200 billion a year.

  • Consumers lose 3.7 billion hours and waste 2.3 billion gallons of fuel sitting in traffic jams.

With these facts in mind, a few weeks ago Transportation Secretary Mineta rolled out the Bush Administration's new national congestion relief initiative.

As you probably have heard, the Secretary will be retiring at the end of next week. But he leaves us with a vision . . . a plan for federal, state, and local officials to follow as we work together to cut traffic jams, relieve freight bottlenecks and reduce flight delays.

The initiative --

  • Seeks Urban Partnership Agreements with a handful of communities willing to demonstrate new congestion relief strategies,

  • Encourages states to pass legislation giving the private sector a broader opportunity to invest in transportation, and,

  • Calls for widespread deployment of new operational technologies and practices that can end tie-ups.

A large part of the task in 1956 was building capacity and connecting metro areas. Today, the Bush Administration is committed to making the system more efficient and improving mobility.

I know we have the tools, the technology, the plans, the partners and the commitment to make today's congestion a thing of the past.

So, as the anniversary convoy prepares to depart this historic place loved by President Eisenhower . . . I urge you to remember not only what has been accomplished in the past 50 years . . . But also to commit yourselves to making the next 50 years just as exciting and productive.

Together, we can keep America moving!


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