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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Acting Administrator, FHWA

Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) Conference

Miami, Florida

Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Good morning, everyone.

It’s a pleasure to join you here today and to represent our Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, and all my colleagues at the US Department of Transportation.

I know the Secretary is sorry he couldn’t be with you, but he didn’t have to look far to find a substitute.

I’m always happy to meet with people on the frontlines of delivering America’s bridges. And the chance to come to Miami in December was appealing as well!

We all recognize that we’re reaching a pivotal moment when it comes to our infrastructure.

States and local agencies are doing a tremendous job putting innovation to work to improve safety, reduce costs and save time.

And our bridge engineers – who some suggest have a tendency to be a little overly cautious and slow to change – have been in the forefront.

I don’t think I’m speaking just for myself when I say I like a sense of caution in the men and women responsible for our bridges. The last thing I want is a cavalier bridge engineer. But I also respect people who are willing to ask, “What’s new? What’s next?”

That’s what you’re doing as you balance your traditional values with the need to consider better, faster and smarter ways of doing business and delivering the goods to the American people.

Americans are more concerned than ever about the way their tax dollars are being spent, the delays they have to endure each day, and the pace at which improvements are being made.

It’s clear we’ve reached a point in this country where a lot of people are asking questions about the future of our infrastructure and the impact it will have on their lives.

Do we have the vision and the will to pay for the improvements that our roads and bridges, sea ports and airports so desperately need?

If you saw the segment on 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago, you saw the situation laid out very graphically. We have millions of miles of road and hundreds of thousands of bridges in this country.

Millions of miles of road in need of repair – and more than 100,000 of those bridges are old enough for Medicare. (as Secretary Foxx often reminds us)

It’s a good line. It usually gets a laugh.

But it highlights a real problem that we’re going to have to address if we’re going to meet the needs of a growing population and a growing economy.

I’m pleased to point out that there will be one fewer bridge eligible for Medicare at this time tomorrow.

After I leave here, I’m headed to my home state of Maine. It’s a 13-hundred mile trip that will also account for about a 60 degree drop in temperature.

But along with the pleasure of returning home, I’ll also have the privilege of joining Senator Susan Collins and others in dedicating a new bridge over the Kennebec River connecting the cities of Richmond and Dresden, Maine.

We’ll be saying goodbye to a bridge built more than 80 years ago during the administration of Herbert Hoover and replacing it with a new and safer bridge that will meet the needs of motorists, truckers, walkers and people who ride bicycles.

It’s certainly something to celebrate.

But it also has to be put in perspective. It’s just one bridge over one river between two small New England towns.

Clearly, there’s a lot of critical work that needs to be done all across the country - and done soon.

Consider this: By 2050 – just 36 years from now – this country will have 100 million more people, and will need to move almost twice as much freight as we move today.

I can boldly predict a few things based on those numbers.

First, NOT ALL of those additional people will be teleworking. Most of them will be on the roads and bridges – trying to get to work on time, rushing to get home to see their child play soccer, running late for a doctor’s appointment.

And, second, we won’t be moving tractor-trailers full of freight using drones. Those big rigs will be sharing the road with the rest of us, just like they do today.

If we’re going to keep from being drowned by that tsunami of people and goods we’re going to need a strong system of roads, bridges and transit systems to help keep our society and our economy moving safely.

Fortunately, this administration has a plan to do that.

The plan is based on two pillars that I call the Two I’s – investment and innovation.

Let’s start with investment.

Earlier this year, we sent Congress a proposal called the GROW AMERICA Act.

It’s a $302 billion, four-year bill that gives states and communities the money – and, just as important, the certainty – to tackle big projects.

President Obama has proposed a way to pay for the bill without adding a dime to the already-shrinking deficit by passing pro-growth, pro-business tax reforms – the kind that have been talked about by people on both sides of the aisle.

Right after the mid-term elections, you also heard a lot of talk from people in both parties about how infrastructure could be one area where they find common ground.

Will any of this actually happen? Is there reason for optimism? Your guess is as good as mine.

But it should be clear to everyone that we need to do something other than constantly kicking the can down the road when it comes to funding.

We can no longer rely on fixes, patches and other temporary solutions for funding not just our infrastructure – but our future.

The GROW AMERICA Act is a good place to start, and we look forward to discussing it with the new Congress.

But investment is only part of the equation. And, frankly, it’s not something that most of us can do anything about.

What can we do? Well, for starters, we can make the case as to why we need to address our infrastructure deficit.

And we can show Congress and the American public that we “get it” and can deliver the greatest value for every tax dollar.

That brings me to the “second I” – something we’re pursuing along with our partners in the public and private sectors.

The “second I” is innovation.

Much of our work in this area is being done through an initiative called Every Day Counts, which we launched in 2009 along with AASHTO, the private sector and the academic community.

You’re going to get a detailed update on Every Day Counts a little later this morning from my colleague Ben Beerman.

But I want to take just a minute to give you an overall sense of what we’re trying to accomplish – and the tremendous progress we’re making.

As many of you know, Every Day Counts is focused on two areas – shortening project delivery and getting proven technologies quickly and widely deployed.

In each round – and we just started our third – we introduce a dozen or so innovations, then work with the states to select the ones that suit their unique needs and circumstances.

But whether it’s a strategy for delivering projects sooner or a technology to improve bridge construction, the real goal of Every Day Counts is deployment, not invention.

We aren’t looking to invent the “next big thing.”

Instead, we want to take things that we know ALREADY WORK, and see them deployed across the country.

I’m pleased to say that we’ve had a lot of success doing that with the various bridge technologies that fall under the umbrella of Accelerated Bridge Construction.

Throughout the country, we’ve seen states use Pre-Fabricated Bridge Elements, slide-in technology and Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil - IBS to deliver new bridges in a matter of hours and days, not weeks and months.

As a result, the public has had to endure shorter delays, faced fewer road closures and generally suffered less inconvenience.

And, we’re saving money that can be used for additional projects – something every public official can appreciate.

Some of the stories associated with this technology are now legendary – at least as much as there are legends about bridges:

  • Like the Fast 14 project in Massachusetts, which used pre-fabricated units to replace 14 bridges along the busy I-93 corridor in ten weekends instead of four years;

  • Or the use of slide-in technology to replace the Skagit River Bridge on I-5 in Washington State just three months after it collapsed from being hit by a truck carrying an oversized load.

But every community has its own success stories.

Since 2010, transportation agencies have designed or constructed more than 2,500 replacement bridges using one of the ABC technologies.

Here’s the most important thing to remember: All of this isn’t thanks to me or someone in Washington telling states what to do.

It’s thanks to people like you, the people on the frontlines, the so-called “overly cautious” bridge engineers who’ve taken the innovations we’re advancing in Every Day Counts and SHRP2, and making them the routine way of doing business. You are setting what will become the new standard – as the bridge engineer has always done – through innovation.

Things that once seemed not only innovative, but downright impossible – like sliding an entire bridge into place – are now becoming the common state of practice.

That – in a nutshell – is what Every Day Counts is all about. We want to make the deployment of innovation a standard business practice in our industry.

I couldn’t be more grateful for your willingness to help advance that mission.

I appreciate your commitment to finding and using better, faster and smarter ways of delivering new bridges.

And I thank you for your commitment to connecting communities, and providing ladders of opportunity that help link people to jobs, to schools and to health care.

But as you know as well as anyone, transportation isn’t just about getting places better. It’s also about making places better.

There’s an assumption built into that statement. The assumption is that transportation is a highly local pursuit.

We often hear the famous adage that all politics is local.

Well, the same can be said for all transportation and all innovation.

You’re the people who know what your state needs and what your specific laws and regulations allow. Or you’re in a position to help change that which constrains innovation - or rules and regulations that are simply antiquated.

And while the federal government and FHWA in particular will always play an important supporting role, the critical work of advancing innovation is done by state and local agencies and their stakeholder partners through something called the State Transportation Innovation Councils or STICs.

45 states now have formally chartered STICs. And the few states that don’t are committed to innovation but have simply adopted a different approach to deployment.

What’s important is an ongoing commitment to bringing together public and private sector stakeholders and charging them with choosing and quickly deploying innovations that address their state’s unique needs.

These local partnerships are deploying innovations that move projects efficiently from concept to completion, and – once built – help them perform better, last longer and keep people safer.

But the STICs also play a bigger role that goes beyond the state’s borders.

Taken together, they form a national network dedicated to advancing innovation.

I believe this National Innovation Network will become increasing important and effective as we move forward.

I see the network as the lasting legacy of Every Day Counts – one that will outlast the career of any FHWA Administrator or any state CEO. Because it’s people like you that must sustain it.

It will ensure that innovation remains at the forefront of our industry and that the door is always open to new ideas, whether they come from Every Day Counts, SHRP2, or the Accelerated Bridge Construction – University Transportation Center:

  • leaders like Dr. Atorod Azizinamini…
  • and Mary Lou Ralls Newman / a veteran of our early efforts to develop EDC.

Yes, we need your help to make sure the innovation network reaches its full potential.

We need your involvement, your knowledge and your foresight into current and future bridge technology.

We need you to help the innovation council in your state answer those all-important questions: “What’s new? What’s next?”

In many ways, Every Day Counts has just been the opening chapter for the future of deployment focus on innovation in transportation.

I apologize in advance to those of you who’ve heard my favorite story about Abraham Lincoln. But it’s so perfect for the occasion that I can’t resist.

The story is this: Lincoln said that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.

In other words, it’s important to prepare and lay the proper groundwork.

For the past five years, as we’ve built Every Day Counts, created the STICs and institutionalized innovation as a standard business practice, we’ve been sharpening the axe.

Now that the STICs are up and running, we need to make sure the search for innovation remains ongoing and that its deployment can take place seamlessly across the country.

We need to make sure the STICs consider the broadest range of innovations and quickly deploy the ones that offer the best chance to save time, save money or save lives.

You can make a real contribution to that effort in your state. And I hope you will.

The numbers – 100 million more people, twice as much freight – leave us no choice but to proceed down the path of finding better, faster and smarter ways to deliver transportation to the American people.

Even the most generous Congress under the best of circumstances would not be able to meet that obligation through investment alone.

We can only meet America’s future transportation needs by combining long-term investment with an organized and ongoing commitment to innovation.

We look forward to your contribution to that effort!

Thank you very much!

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