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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Deputy Administrator, FHWA

Western Regional Partnership

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Phoenix, Arizona

Good afternoon, everyone! It’s a pleasure to join you.

I was especially grateful to be invited to take part in your Principals’ Meeting because I was struck by just how unique an organization this is.

There aren’t many organizations – at least in my experience – that bring together such a diverse group of stakeholders around such a broad range of issues.

So why am I here today?

I think it’s because when you look at who you are and what you represent, transportation is the common theme that runs through everything:

  • The economic growth and quality of life in communities;
  • The preparedness of our military;
  • The safety and success of tribal communities;
  • Our ability to face natural disasters;
  • The protection and preservation of our natural environment.

Our transportation system plays an important role in all of that.

But this is not a one-way street – so to speak.

I’m not here to talk about what we’ve done for you.

I’m here to acknowledge what you’ve done for all of us.

Our nation’s transportation system is an unrivaled engine of economic growth, job creation and safe personal mobility. And it’s been shaped and inspired by a variety of influences that benefit us to this day.

For example, consider the contribution of our Native American tribes.

It’s not a stretch to say that every major road in this country started as an Indian trail. Even the Interstate System generally follows the routes laid out originally by Native Americans.

Here in this region, Indian tribes helped create what became the Camino Real – a key trading route among tribes and with Mexico.

Today, I-25 in New Mexico follows roughly the same route.

Native Americans knew the land and understood its topography, and so the imprint they put on this country has been long-lasting. Today, we’re the heirs to that knowledge and that legacy.

Or, look at the military. Probably the greatest single influence on the modern highway system was a military man, Dwight Eisenhower.

As a young Lieutenant Colonel in 1919, Eisenhower decided to ride in a convoy from Washington, DC to San Francisco.

He was frustrated by his failure to land an assignment in Europe, and signed up for the convoy – in his words – for a lark.

It was a decision that continues to benefit his country almost 100 years later.

The convoy traveled the Lincoln Highway, the nation’s first cross-country road, which had opened a few years earlier.

Their trip took 66 days and traveled through some of the states that are members of this Partnership – Utah, Nevada and California.

Eisenhower was not impressed by what he saw. In a six-page report, he described rough roads, sandy roads, steep grades and roads so narrow that vehicles had to ride partly off the surface.

He was particularly taken by the lack of maintenance, noting that the roads could have been kept in better condition if just a small amount of money had been strategically spent.

Sound familiar?

But his experience in 1919 – and his time in Germany after World War Two where he saw the Autobahn - helped shape his view that our nation needed an Interstate Highway system to help people, commerce and the military move across this vast country.

Now “fast forward” to the present day, where events unfolding this summer will help determine if we’re able to continue delivering and maintaining that kind of system.

In my view, our success will depend on our ability to follow two parallel, but closely related paths.

The two paths both start with the letter I, and so I think of them simply as the “Two-I’s” – investment and innovation.

INVESTMENT

Let’s start with investment – a topic that has a great deal of urgency today.

Earlier this spring, Secretary Foxx traveled by bus through eight states in the South and Midwest.

He visited communities where jobs and opportunities are being created because major projects are being built.

And he also went to places where important work is NOT being done because projects are still waiting for funding.

Much like what Eisenhower saw in terms of road maintenance, Secretary Foxx concluded that America has an “infrastructure deficit,” which he describes as too many miles of road in need of repair and more than 100,000 bridges old enough for Medicare.

The Secretary usually gets a laugh with that last line – but that’s not his intent.

He’s trying to explain as clearly and simply as possible the difficult situation we find ourselves in. We’re simply not investing enough to maintain and improve our system.

But there’s good news on the investment front. Several weeks ago, we sent the GROW AMERICA Act to Congress.

It’s our proposal for reauthorizing our surface transportation programs, and our vision for investing in our infrastructure, supporting millions of jobs here at home and laying the foundation for a more competitive economy.

I’m not going to go through all the details of our bill, but I do want to highlight some important themes.

  • The GROW AMERICA Act builds on the work we’ve been doing in the area of safety - now and always our top priority.

  • It stabilizes the Highway Trust Fund and gives stakeholders four years of certainty to plan and invest in projects.

  • At $302 billion over four years – nearly $200 billion of that for the highway program – it represents a 37 percent increase over MAP-21, and a level of funding that focuses the conversation around what the country needs long-term, not just what it takes to meet today’s immediate demands.

  • It increases the Tribal Transportation Program to $2.1 billion over four years. It increases the set-aside for planning from 2 to 3 percent. It increases the bridge set-aside from 2 to 4 percent to address the growing backlog of tribal bridge needs. And it returns the tribal High Priority Program into the core program as a 7 percent set-aside.

    The increase in funding is enough to cover the new and increased set-asides without affecting the amount distributed to each tribe.

  • The GROW AMERICA takes an approach to freight that’s less highway-focused and more multi-modal.

  • It creates a new Critical Immediate Investment program to jump-start work on improving the condition of our roads and bridges.

  • And it continues the outstanding progress we’ve made in shortening project delivery.

Our bill has moved the discussion forward on shaping the next reauthorization. But we don’t pretend to “own” all the good ideas.

Members of Congress are offering their own plans, and we look forward to working with them to arrive at a long-term bill.

But, as you’re well aware, we also face a more immediate issue in the dire state of the Highway Trust Fund.

As of the end of April, the Trust Fund had a balance of $8.7 billion.

If expenditures continue as projected, and no action is taken to shore up the Fund, we’ll likely experience a cash shortfall in late August.

There should be no doubt about what a Trust Fund insolvency would mean: States would have to decide which of the 112,000 active road and bridge projects to continue, which to defer and which to bring to a halt.

Nearly 700,000 jobs would be at risk if those decisions had to be made.

We’re currently finalizing our cash management procedures in the event the fund runs short of cash later this summer.

But it’s clearly a situation we hope to avoid.

INNOVATION

While we work with Congress on the investment issue, we have to keep our part of the bargain.

It’s our responsibility to show Congress and the American people that if they invest in transportation we’re able to manage that investment carefully and spend it wisely.

That means getting the most for every tax dollar by becoming more efficient so we can actually deliver more projects in less time for the same money.

That’s where the “second I” – innovation – comes in.

In 2009, we joined our government and private sector partners in launching an innovation initiative called Every Day Counts.

With each round of EDC – and we’re about to introduce Round Three – we focus on a dozen or so strategies and technologies that will help shorten project delivery, enhance safety and protect the environment.

The states are in the driver’s seat in terms of which initiatives to deploy.

It’s like choosing from a menu, with our FHWA team in each state making strong, informed recommendations.

We encourage states to set up innovation councils to lead their deployment effort, but we work with states whether they have a council or not.

We’re not hung up on names or titles. We’re focused on doing things better, faster, smarter and cheaper than ever before.

We want “two bridges for the price of one” to become less of a metaphor – and more of a reality.

We can achieve that goal as we deploy innovation state by state, and ultimately create a national network focused on innovation.

Let me give you a few examples of what some of the states in this Partnership are doing. I apologize in advance for not mentioning everyone. This is just a sample!

  • Nevada DOT used slide-in bridge technology to replace both spans of the I-15 bridge at Mesquite, Nevada. In each case, the old span was demolished and the new one put in place during a 56-hour window – with no disruption to traffic on I-15.

  • Utah has used Programmatic Agreements and Planning and Environmental Linkages to improve project delivery while protecting the environment. Both of these strategies have been included in our current transportation bill, MAP-21.

  • And Arizona has been a leader in using Warm Mix Asphalt.

As you may know, Warm Mix can be placed on the road at lower temperatures than conventional asphalt. This saves money, helps protect the environment, saves energy and extends the paving season so people can work longer.

It’s a technology that made perfect sense from a number of standpoints – but needed a boost from EDC to get states to take a close look at it.

Now, it’s being used in most states, and it’s become a personal favorite of Secretary Foxx.

It’s not that he has a particular love of asphalt. It’s because he likes the fact that using Warm Mix has the potential to save about $3 billion by 2020 – money that can be invested in more capacity.

Tribal governments also choose from the various Every Day Counts initiatives.

It’s important that tribes get the most value for every transportation dollar given the critical role that roads play in the safety, economic development, job creation and standard of living in tribal communities.

Our T-TAP centers are important sources of technical support and expertise that tribes can draw upon.

Here’s one example of how a local tribe is putting Every Day Counts to work:

The transportation department for the Gila River Indian Community is using two EDC initiatives as it replaces a deteriorating bridge over the Gila River south of here.

They’re the first tribe in the nation to use a form of innovative contracting, known as Construction Manager-General Contractor, for a bridge replacement.

And they’re using pre-fabricated elements to build the new bridge off-site before they move it into place.

The bottom line? The original plans called for the bridge to be closed for about six months, requiring people to take a six-mile detour. Instead, they hope to complete the project within weeks.

So those are the “two-I’s” of investment and innovation.

I mentioned at the outset that they follow parallel paths. But there’s a point where they do intersect.

We’ve arrived at that point thanks to economic, political and public pressure to do more with less.

This is where the “two I’s” complement each other.

Without innovation, our investment won’t go as far. And without sufficient investment, innovation becomes little more than a pilot project or technical exercise.

We look forward to working with Congress, with you or with any stakeholder that can help us make progress along one path or the other.

CONCLUSION

Let me close with some thoughts for moving forward.

As you can imagine, working with so many stakeholders, including tribal governments and the military, offers the Federal Highway Administration some unique challenges.

But we’re dedicated to helping tribes build a transportation system that fosters economic development, job creation and a better quality of life.

Likewise, we’re committed to working with the finest military force in the world to create and maintain a transportation system that serves the national security.

In both those cases – and across all stakeholder groups – there’s a need for better planning, closer coordination and more communication.

It’s important in working with both the tribes and the military that we have a good handle on the transportation assets already in place so we can avoid duplication and focus on improvements.

It’s also important that we have a clear understanding of the condition and capacity of roads adjacent to tribal lands and military bases. This has become a bigger issue as base realignments and closures create new congestion patterns.

And we need to make sure that tribes and the military clearly understand the role that other stakeholders will play.

For example, it’s important that state, country and tribal roles are clearly spelled out regarding 911 emergency response on tribal lands.

And military base commanders need to understand where their missions may need the involvement and support of states, cities, tribal governments and other stakeholders.

Transportation is a highly collaborative field. It takes a contribution and a commitment from many people and organizations to keep America moving, keep America safe, and keep America strong.

Thank you, again, for having me!

And remember to always set a good safety example by buckling your seat belt, putting away your cell phone when you’re driving, and simply driving safely.

Thank you very much!

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Page posted on May 21, 2015.
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