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Remarks by Greg Nadeau, FHWA Deputy Administrator

10th National Conference on Transportation Asset Management

Miami, Florida

Monday, April 28, 2014 at 1PM

Thank you:

  • TRB for your continuing contributions to transportation and for putting together this conference;

  • Mike Hancock and Ananth Prasad for your leadership, including in the area of Asset Management;

  • My colleagues at FHWA – Steve Gaj and Nastaran Saadatmand – who lead our efforts in this field.

It’s a pleasure to join you today. I appreciate the chance to briefly share our perspective on Asset Management and maybe offer a few words of encouragement.

I urge everyone to take advantage of the seminars and workshops over the next several days. They’re going to provide a lot more detail than I could ever hope to offer.

We did a rough calculation in my office the other day, and we found that since Victor Mendez and I joined FHWA in the summer of 2009, we’ve attended close to 100 ground-breaking and ribbon-cutting events.

In our line of work, those are the events that qualify as “glamorous.”

Indeed, it’s a pleasure to dig in that ceremonial shovel or use that giant pair of scissors. Those events represent progress and jobs. They hold the promise of less congestion and a stronger economy.

The subject of this conference is emphatically not glamorous!

There are no bands, no balloons, no gold shovels or giant scissors when you do the hard work of keeping our existing roads and bridges in a state of good repair.

But it’s essential work, especially as our infrastructure continues to age and the funding for new roads and bridges remains limited.

Secretary Foxx sums up the situation very well when he refers to our nation’s “infrastructure deficit.”

He talks about the miles and miles of roads that need repair and what he describes as 100,000 bridges that are “old enough to qualify for Medicare.”

That line often gets a laugh, but its intent is serious.

We’re not investing enough in building new infrastructure, and we’re certainly not investing enough in preserving and maintaining the infrastructure we have.

A couple of weeks ago, the Secretary took a week-long bus tour through eight states to remind people of how important it is that Congress pass a long-term transportation funding bill this year.

His tour bus was painted with a slogan that really sums up what’s at stake: “Invest in America, Commit to the Future.”

Under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Foxx, that’s exactly what we propose to do.

We’ll soon send to Congress our proposal for reauthorizing the nation’s surface transportation programs.

It’s a four-year, $302 billion package, including a $199 billion investment in our highways.

It would allow us to meet our most important goals – to strengthen our infrastructure, build on our outstanding safety record, and give state and local governments the time and money they need to invest in projects and CREATE JOBS.

Half the money would come from corporate tax reform. It would allow us to not only re-fill the Highway Trust Fund, but grow it.

And here’s something this group might find interesting. Our proposal will include a new $13.4 billion, four-year Critical Immediate Investment program, which is part of the President’s Fix It First initiative.

More than half the funding would come in the first two years to jump-start the work of reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges and bringing our National Highway System into a better state of repair.

No one should see our proposal as a statement that we “own” all the good ideas. House and Senate committees are also working on their own proposals.

But ours will be a significant step in the process. We look forward to sitting down with Members of Congress from both parties to hammer out a truly bi-partisan, long-term transportation bill.

But we can’t wait for the political system to act. We need to continue meeting our responsibility to maintain and manage the nation’s transportation assets.

FHWA has been beating the drums on this issue since 1999, when we set up our first office of asset management.

To use a popular phrase, that was around the time when we’d reached a “tipping point” in the life of our infrastructure.

The post-World War Two building boom was ending, especially as the Interstate system was completed.

It was time to start working with our state partners to manage those assets into their middle age and help them meet the demands of a growing population and a growing economy.

You often hear asset management compared to the responsibility a homeowner faces to make sure the home’s furnace, roof and plumbing remain in a state of good repair.

Or sometimes it’s compared to a car owner, who needs to stay on top of the warranty service.

There used to be a commercial on TV for a car service company – like Midas or Jiffy Lube – that was intended to encourage people to keep up with their routine auto repairs.

The punchline was, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.”

The implication was clear. Maintenance is essential. And the longer you delay it, the more an asset falls into disrepair and the more it costs to fix it.

The same, of course, holds true for roads and bridges. Time is money.

And so, FHWA works closely with the states to help them manage the system with the resources they have.

We’ve created an asset management framework to guide them in their work.

The framework is built around five core questions:

  • What do I own?
  • Where is it?
  • What condition is it in?
  • What is its remaining useful life?
  • What is its remaining economic value?

Those five simple questions have grown increasingly important over the years as the transportation culture confronts the need to extend the useful life of our assets, and as we move beyond groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings to thinking about our next steps.

As we look toward the future, there are three important points to remember.

First, asset management is no longer just a suggestion, a good idea or a proposal. It’s the law.

MAP-21 requires states to develop and implement asset management plans.

These plans are intended to get states to look into the future and come up with a strategy for investing in the maintenance of their roads and bridges.

It holds states accountable for staying ahead of the curve and taking a comprehensive look at their system. Basically, it puts some “teeth” in the five core questions.

Or, to return to an earlier analogy, it requires states to change the oil every 3,000 miles, not wait until the engine is smoking!

We’re in the process of drafting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the asset management provisions of MAP-21, which we hope to publish in late May or early June.

There will be a 60-day comment period after it’s published, and it’s very important that you read the proposed rule and give us your feedback.

FHWA and AASHTO have done extensive outreach to stakeholders to help them develop and implement their plans.

The asset management rule is one of a number being written as we become a more data-driven system.

Performance measurement has been talked about for years, and there have been some steps taken in that direction. But it always seemed to be something looming in the future.

Well, as a famous football coach once said, “The future is now!”

Second, asset management addresses a key priority of Secretary Foxx.

The Secretary speaks quite often about using resources more efficiently – whether it’s time, money or, in this case, the transportation assets we already have.

Even the most optimistic plans won’t allow us to fund and build our way to a safer, less congested system.

We need to make sure our existing assets are there to serve us better and longer, and that we make the most efficient use of every transportation dollar.

A third reason we feel so strongly about asset management is because it’s an investment in our future – as a nation and as individuals.

Throughout our history, each generation has built on the contributions of the one that came before. We’ve seen this from the Erie Canal to the Transcontinental Railroad to the Interstate Highway System.

It’s as if America is governed by an unwritten contract to always reach higher, build bigger and leave the nation better than we found it.

But that contract will be broken – and the bill passed to our children – if we fail to invest in America at this critical moment when there is so much work to do and so much riding on our willingness to do it.

Finally, I hope you’ve heard President Obama speak about what he calls “ladders of opportunity.”

He reminds us that infrastructure is not just about pouring cement and lifting steel. It’s the way people connect to jobs, to school, to health care – and to a better quality of life.

Our reauthorization proposal would strengthen those ladders, including a $72 billion investment in public transportation so people have a safe, affordable choice in addition to driving.

But for those who drive, we want people to be able to make that trip to work with as little congestion as possible, as little wear and tear on their car as possible, and as little wear and tear on their “psyche” as possible.

Yes, it would be nice to help those people by cutting the ribbon each week on another bright, shiny new project.

But that’s not realistic.

In order to keep ladders of opportunity accessible and safe for the greatest number of people, we need to keep them in the best condition possible.

People should be able to focus on the destination – doing a good job at work or doing well in school – and not be frustrated by the journey itself.

Our transportation assets should help people make a living, not drain their time and their wallet.

So, that’s kind of a general overview on how the Federal Highway Administration sees the issue of asset management.

We’re ready and able to help you in all aspects of developing and implementing your asset management plan.

But the commitment can only come from you.

We’ve all come to this conference because we know this issue is important.

Now we need to take the difficult, but important step to make asset management a reality – not because it’s glamorous, but because it’s essential.

Thank you again for inviting me here today.

And remember to always buckle your seat belt, put away your cell phone when you’re driving, watch out for walkers, joggers and people riding bikes, and simply drive safely.

Thank you very much!

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Page posted on May 21, 2015.
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