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Remarks by Greg Nadeau, Acting Administrator, FHWA

TRB Young Member Workshop on Transportation Operations

Sunday, January 12, 2014 at 1:30 PM

Marriott Wardman Park Hotel

I appreciate the chance to help kick off this workshop. Operations is certainly a timely and important subject for the start of TRB.

So I want to spend a few minutes sharing the Federal Highway Administration’s perspective on what we mean by operations and why anyone should care about it.

FHWA has a strong interest in this area. And we’ve dedicated a large number of programs and a significant amount of staff to it.

Our operations programs are built around four cornerstones:

  • Influencing travel demand (how much, when, where) and better managing traffic;

  • Anticipating and responding to events, some of which are planned (work zones, special events) and some of which are unplanned (traffic incidents, bad weather);

  • Providing travelers with high-quality traffic and weather information;

  • And ensuring that the unique needs of the freight community are considered and included in every one of those areas.

You might be asking yourselves why we put such a strong focus on improving operations. That’s not necessarily a simple question to answer, but it is an important one.

The over-arching answer is that we want to keep people and commerce moving. A healthy economy needs a reliable transportation system in order to grow, compete and create jobs.

And the American people need a reliable system in order to take their kids to school, get to work, go to the doctor and generally move around their communities safely and efficiently.

As you can imagine, that’s quite a challenge under any circumstances, but especially in a time when budgets are tight at the federal, state and local levels.

So it’s an economic “fact of life” that we have to constantly look for ways to maximize our existing road and bridge capacity.

That’s where the focus on operations is especially critical. We want to reduce and manage the impacts of congestion for the traveling public. We want to improve the safety and sustainability of the highway system.

And we want to facilitate the cost-effective investment of limited resources.

We’re currently in the final six months of our two-year funding bill, MAP-21.

There are tough decisions ahead on how – and at what level – to fund future transportation programs.

We have an obligation to show Congress and the American people that if they entrust us with money to build and operate the system, we’re able to do it as efficiently and effectively as possible.

That means we need to promote a more proactive approach to operations.

That’s not necessarily easy. It involves a number of factors, including the ability to collect real-time information, the ability to monitor and measure the performance of the system, and the ability to deploy state-of-the-art technologies and strategies.

To further complicate things, we have to do all this across jurisdictional lines and among different modes. Freight is a good example of this as it moves from a port to a train to a truck as it makes its way across the country.

Perhaps the hardest thing of all is to make sure there’s a workforce at the local, state and federal level that’s capable of managing everything I’ve just described.

Fortunately, we have a highly capable operations team at FHWA.

The really important thing to remember is that when we can pull all the different aspects together, the payoff can be tremendous for our country and our economy.

During your time here at TRB, you’re going to hear about a lot of programs that fall under our FHWA operations umbrella. MAP-21 is one of them.

From the minute President Obama signed MAP-21 in July of 2012, we’ve been working hard to implement its many provisions.

MAP-21 has a strong focus on freight and making sure we direct our resources to the infrastructure that will help freight move efficiently.

So our operations people are deeply involved in the work required in MAP-21 to designate a national freight network, develop a national freight strategic plan, and do a comprehensive truck size and weight study.

The most challenging provisions of MAP-21 are the ones that take us into the era of performance measurement.

We’re working with the states to set measures and targets for how the system should perform in key areas like safety, freight movement, reducing congestion and other areas we’ve talked about.

Performance measurement is going to play an important role in guiding future decisions on where we target our investments to keep our country and our economy moving.

You’re also going to hear a lot this week about what the transportation industry is doing to make innovation a greater part of our culture.

That’s critical to what I mentioned earlier, which is making the most efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars.

We also need to use innovative strategies and technologies to increase the “through-put” on our existing facilities.

SHRP2 and Every Day Counts are two examples of how we’re putting innovation to work.

The best way to think of them is that SHRP2 is an incubator of innovative ideas, and Every Day Counts is the way those ideas are deployed.

Every Day Counts offers strategies for delivering projects sooner. And it advances proven, market-ready technologies that can help achieve a lot of the goals that are fundamental to our operations, like reducing congestion.

For example, in the first round of EDC, we advanced a technology known as Adaptive Signal Control, which basically allows traffic signals to adjust to actual traffic conditions.

This is a very successful way to keep traffic moving and reduce congestion on existing roads. And it’s better for the environment because you don’t have so many cars idling at traffic lights when they could safely keep moving.

We’re very pleased that 44 state and local transportation agencies around the country are using this new form of signal control on 64 projects.

And we continue our work – along with our DOT partners – on connected vehicle technologies and applications that will link vehicles to the infrastructure and to each other.

Late last summer, the Department completed a Connected Vehicle Model deployment in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

We’re very excited about the potential this technology holds for preventing crashes and improving mobility.


All of which brings me to my larger agenda for meeting with you today.

As I’ve mentioned, operating our system is both challenging and rewarding. And the challenges and rewards are going to increase in the years ahead, as we face a growing population, financial constraints, and a greater reliance on technology and innovation.

That’s going to take a skilled workforce where young people like yourselves play a growing role.

As I look around FHWA, I see many of my colleagues who are part of the Baby Boom generation starting to retire.

It’s estimated that across the country, half of our transportation workers will be eligible to retire in the next decade.

So we’re going to need a whole new generation of highly skilled and highly motivated people to design, build and operate a transportation system that’s safer, greener and more durable than we have today.

Yes, that means we need people trained in the traditional disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.

But in addition to smart people, we also need smart ideas. That’s something that can’t be taught and won’t be found in any curriculum.

We need people who have a spirit of innovation. And believe me, that spirit will serve you well no matter what field you ultimately choose.

But here’s the important thing to keep in mind: We don’t pursue innovation for its own sake.

We pursue innovation because of the positive impact it can have on people’s lives.

You’ll be successful in transportation or any field if you pursue innovation that helps meet the needs that people have in their everyday lives.

Isn’t that why the smart phone is so successful?

Cell phones have been around for many years. But over the last 7 or 8 years “smart phones” have taken things to a whole new level.

Why? Because if you need to change your hotel reservation, set the alarm system on your house, read the newspaper or program your DVR – you can do it all sitting right here on something that fits in your pocket.

There are so many uses for a smart phone other than making phone calls.

At FHWA, we constantly remind ourselves that highways aren’t just about vehicles. They’re about people.

They’re the way people drive their kids to school, get to work, get to the doctor, or ship their products.

Communities are more livable when people have safe transportation choices – driving, taking transit, riding their bike, even walking.

There’s less congestion on the roads and the air is cleaner.

Because people want to live and work in that kind of place, transportation contributes to the economic strength of a community.

Companies want to locate – and create jobs – in communities that have a strong transportation system.

Our operations team is at the heart of that important effort to make sure our transportation assets are serving the needs of the people and businesses that use them.

As you pursue your careers, I hope you’ll look for ways to make our transportation system serve those needs better – and to keep people safer.

We have a tradition at FHWA that we always end our remarks with a few words about safety.

Safety is the top priority of everyone at FHWA and the entire Department of Transportation. And it’s important that we always reinforce that message.

Safety is the product of several factors, including safer roads and bridges, laws and law enforcement, and the actions of the driver.

Distracted driving remains a serious concern in this country.

41 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books that ban texting behind the wheel.

But ultimately, safety comes down to the driver showing good judgment and common sense.

And so, in closing, let me urge you to always buckle your seat belt, put away your cell phone when you’re driving, watch out for pedestrians and people on bikes, and simply drive safely.

Thank you very much. I hope you have a successful session and a productive week here at TRB!

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