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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Acting Administrator, FHWA

Society of American Military Engineers (SAME)

Sacramento, California

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 8 AM

Dave Cook, Colonel Herman, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a pleasure to join you this morning and help kick off a very ambitious program.

I think we’ve been in touch with Ted Hopkins since last October about getting together to talk about the challenges we face in transportation, and some ideas for moving forward.

I’m glad we were finally able to make it happen. And, it’s clear we haven’t run out of challenges since last October!

I’m especially honored to be part of an event so closely tied to our outstanding military.

The Federal Highway Administration is proud to work with our military partners to make sure we have a transportation system that supports our national security.

And because military bases don’t exist in a vacuum, we work with our friends in the military to help manage the impact of base closings and realignments on local traffic.

As some of you may know, 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.

The trip took 66 days, and it’s fair to say 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, freight and the military move across this vast country.

Now “fast forward” to the present day, where the debate continues over the best way to meet the challenge of delivering and maintaining that kind of system – a system, by the way, that will serve a nation with 100 million more people by 2050 and need to move twice as much freight as we do today.

I believe we have the solution can be found in two closely related strategies that I want to talk about briefly this morning.

I call those strategies the “two I’s” - investment and innovation.

INVESTMENT

Let’s start with investment – a topic that’s getting a great deal of attention today.

As you know, after another 11th hour cliffhanger, Congress passed a short-term “patch” for the Highway Trust Fund that takes us through May of next year.

We support what Congress has done. Failure to act would have put 700,000 jobs and more than 100,000 projects at risk, right in the heart of the summer construction season.

But this is not a time to celebrate or for Congress to take a victory lap.

Patching the Trust Fund is a lot like plugging a pothole, rather than addressing the larger, structural problem.

And this patch expires right as next year’s construction season begins.

Both President Obama and our Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, have been increasingly vocal in “calling out” Congress for its failure to think – and act – long-term so that states and local governments can plan ahead and we can invest in a system that takes our country into the future.

The American people know the difference between a short-term fix and a long-term solution.

Recently, Secretary Foxx was joined by 11 former Secretaries of Transportation – men and women that served under Democratic and Republican Presidents – in urging Congress to address our long-term transportation needs.

How great are those needs? Well, just look around.

A White House survey recently found that 65 percent of our roads are not in good condition. And one in four bridges needs significant repair.

Or as the Secretary puts it, we have more than 100,000 bridges old enough for Medicare.

That last line usually gets a laugh, but that’s not the Secretary’s intent.

He’s trying to make the point as clearly as possible that we’re simply not investing enough to maintain and improve our system, create jobs, enhance safety and help our economy grow.

But there’s good news on the investment front. Several months 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.

  • At $302 billion over four years, the GROW AMERICA Act 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 stabilizes the Highway Trust Fund and gives stakeholders four years of certainty to plan and invest in projects.

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

  • It takes a multi-modal “systems” approach to moving freight.

  • 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, offering proposals that could cut delivery times in half.

And it can be paid for without adding a dime to our already-shrinking deficit by passing pro-growth business tax reforms.

Just because the Trust Fund is patched through next May doesn’t mean Congress should wait that long to pass a long-term bill.

Americans deserves a multi-year plan – and they shouldn’t have to wait until May to get it.

INNOVATION

While Congress addresses the investment issue, the transportation community has a responsibility to keep our part of the bargain.

We need 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 becoming more efficient so we can actually deliver more projects for the same money. It’s the proverbial more “bang” for every federal “buck.”

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 just introduced Round Three – we focus on a dozen or so innovations – both 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 innovations they deploy.

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

Not surprisingly, for a state that’s always been known for being on the “cutting edge,” California has formed a strong partnership with us on Every Day Counts.

For example, California has become a national leader in the deployment of an EDC technology known as Intelligent Compaction – or IC for short.

I won’t even begin to try and explain it, other than saying it uses GPS technology to make the paving process more efficient and less expensive.

And it improves the long-term performance of the pavement, which cuts the cost of maintenance and replacement.

Caltrans is also showing tremendous leadership deploying another EDC technology known as High Friction Surface Treatments.

A lot of the work with this technology is going to take place nearby in Placer County.

As the name suggests, this technology improves safety in situations where friction is critical – like around curves. It’s especially important on rural roads.

And, in these times of tight budgets, this technology costs less and can be deployed faster than other safety improvements, like widening the road.

States are deploying innovations like those all across the country.

We’re seeing them deliver projects and their benefits sooner and for less money.

Two bridges for the price of one used to be a cliché. Now it’s an attainable goal thanks to a renewed focus on innovation.

Every Day Counts is working – it’s moving the needle – and it’s doing so at a time when efficiency and getting the most out of every tax dollar is more important than ever.

We believe the state-based deployment model is an important reason behind that success.

Here in California, the Research Development Activity Committee meets twice a year to consider new ways to improve project delivery and deploy technology.

36 states have taken the additional step to charter a formal State Transportation Innovation Council – or STIC – and are taking advantage of the financial incentives we offer STICs to speed innovation deployment.

But we’re not hung up on names or titles. We’re focused on working with states in whatever format they choose to help them do things better, faster, smarter and for less money.

Ultimately, we’re laying the groundwork for a national network dedicated to innovation.

It’s difficult, important and time-consuming work. But it’s going to lay a foundation that will serve the industry for years to come.

When I think about what we’re doing, I’m often reminded of a terrific quote by none other than Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln said that if he had 8 hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend the first 6 hours sharpening the axe.

That’s what we’re doing when it comes to innovation. We’re sharpening the axe so that one day in the near future innovation becomes a permanent part of the transportation culture.

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

They exist separately, but they are closely related.

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’re ready to do our part on the innovation side. We look for Congress to do its part on the investment side.

CONCLUSION

Let me close with some thoughts on our Number One priority – safety.

One of the greatest safety challenges we face today is the problem of distracted driving.

Cellphones and smart phones are wonderful devices that have revolutionized the way we live.

But they have no place in the hands of someone trying to drive a car.

We’re pleased that California is one of 44 states and the District of Columbia to ban texting behind the wheel.

But there’s no more effective deterrent than people using good judgment and common sense when they’re driving.

So, in closing, let me urge you to always buckle your seat belt, put away your cell phone when you’re driving, and simply, drive safely.

Thank you very much!

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Page posted on May 21, 2015.
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