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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Acting Administrator, FHWA
California Transportation Forum
Sacramento, California
Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hello, everyone. It's a great pleasure to be here.

Thanks to my good friend, Will Kempton, for inviting me to join you today.

And thanks to all of you for your leadership in transportation policy and the knowledge and experience you bring to the table.

We need every bit of knowledge and experience we can get these days!

My assignment today is to share a few thoughts about what's going on in Washington.

I could go for a cheap laugh and say "not much." But I think transportation is one area where there are actually some new developments to report.

Frankly, I've noticed something recently that I haven't seen or felt in the five-and-a-half years I've been in Washington.

All of a sudden, transportation has become exciting! People are talking about it. It's cool, hip or whatever the current term is.

That's not a secret to any of us.

Those of us in the industry have long understood the "excitement" that can only come from a discussion of Design Build contracting or a demonstration of new paving technology.

But I think the American people and their representatives in capitals from Washington to Sacramento are really focusing on the critical role transportation plays in our communities, our economy and our way of life.

They're even starting to see transportation as an area where a highly partisan Congress might possibly find that elusive "common ground."

That remains to be seen.

But there are certainly a lot of factors at play that are putting transportation in the limelight and causing people to think about where our industry is headed.

I want to spend the next few minutes talking about those factors and, more importantly, how they connect with each other - connecting the dots, so to speak.

Let me start with the State of the Union address the President delivered a couple of weeks ago.

I hope you had a chance to watch it or read about it because the President was able to deliver the best economic news this nation has heard in years:

  • An economy that's growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999;

  • More than 11 million - 11 million! - new jobs created in the past five years;

  • A 58-month streak of job creation - the longest on record.

I mention this not to replay the State of the Union, but to point out something that should really hit home and give each of us a sense of well-earned sense of pride and a renewed sense of purpose.

All of us in the transportation community had a hand in creating that economic success story.

Consider what transportation professionals around the country have been part of:

  • The day-to-day delivery of the federal-aid program;

  • Implementing the Recovery Act;

  • Putting together creative proposals for TIGER grants and other discretionary programs.

All of these have helped to create jobs, put people to work, and get this economy back on its feet!

This was especially true in the earliest days of this Administration, when the recession was at its darkest and the nation was in the grips of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Transportation became a shining light that helped lead America along the path of recovery.

But you can bet that no one at our Department is taking a victory lap.

As the President pointed out, there's so much work that needs to be done to repair our infrastructure, much less expand it.

But the simple fact is that we're not investing enough in our roads and bridges to keep pace with our growing population and growing economy.

Not even close.

Americans spend 5.5 billion hours in traffic each year - something Californians know all too well - costing families more than $120 billion in extra fuel and lost time.

Our businesses pay an extra $27 billion each year to ship their freight – raising prices on everyday products.

Too many of our roads are not in good shape and, as the Secretary likes to point out, we have more than 100,000 bridges old enough to qualify for Medicare.

And so if we want to keep adding more chapters to that economic success story, we need to break the political gridlock in Washington and fund a transportation system that meets America's needs.

A 21st century society with 21st century businesses needs a 21st century infrastructure - modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains, better roads.

And so, this Administration remains committed to working with the new Congress on a well-funded, multi-year bill to support our nation's infrastructure.

During the past year, the Secretary has traveled thousands of miles across the country to talk with local officials, business leaders and everyday people about the state of transportation in this country.

In stop after stop, he heard about the un-met needs of a community, the plans put on hold, and - maybe most importantly - the strong desire of people to see the folks in Washington find a way to work together to help make their commute a little easier or their business a little more competitive.

And, to his great credit, the Secretary isn't bashful about sharing those views with members of Congress.

Last week he delivered a simple, straightforward message to a Senate committee.

Let me quote him directly because I want to get it exactly right: "To hell with the politics."

Political gridlock has caused us to fund our system in fits and starts, 11th hour patches and short-term fixes.

We've had more than 30 of those fixes since SAFETEA-LU expired at the end of September 2009.

It seems like we're always on the edge of a cliff trying to rescue the Highway Trust Fund from insolvency -- as we were last summer and as we're on course to do again in May.

Last year, this Administration offered a plan to bring a long-term vision to transportation when we sent the GROW AMERICA Act to Congress.

It was a multi-year bill with a significant growth in funding and a timeframe that allowed planners to make decisions with a degree of certainty.

But Congress failed to pass GROW AMERICA or any long-term transportation bill, settling at the very last minute on a ten-month extension that kept funding at flat levels.

Yes, it kept the Trust Fund solvent, but, no, it didn't meet the country's important, long-term needs.

Today a new Congress, under new leadership, has opened for business.

As the Secretary told Congress last week, we're preparing what he called a "new and improved" GROW AMERICA Act, which we'll send to the Hill in the coming weeks.

We don't suggest that our proposal is the only solution, and we look forward to working with Congress to chart a path forward.

But we believe that any bill should have a few essential elements:

  • A substantial increase in investment;

  • A multi-year timeframe;

  • Policy changes that continue to streamline the permitting process, while protecting and improving the environment.

  • Greater opportunity for private investment and a greater voice for communities, MPOs and freight operators in what gets built.

Earlier this week, the President sent a budget to Congress that incorporates those priorities and reflects the first year of what would be a six-year GROW AMERICA proposal.

This proposal would fund FHWA programs at $317 billion over those six years, an average of almost $53 billion per year or a 29 percent increase over current funding levels.

For the fiscal year ahead - FY 2016 - the President is proposing just over $51 billion in funding for FHWA.

The budget would continue the program structure of MAP-21, and incorporate new programs to advance projects critical to moving freight, fund immediate repairs to roads and bridges, and strengthen the Ladders of Opportunity program linking people to jobs, schools and other services.

These ideas are being incorporated into the version of GROW AMERICA that will be sent to the Hill in the weeks ahead.

We'll see what happens after that.

The good news is that we're hearing members on both sides of the aisle talk about the importance of doing something to improve our nation's infrastructure and offering different ideas for funding.

Many see transportation as an area where bi-partisan agreement might be possible.

We intend to work with Congress to help make a long-term bill a reality – and to provide the robust funding our roads and bridges need.

But investment is only part of the solution.

Even under the best of circumstances, there are limits to the amount of money Congress would be able to provide for transportation.

And so it's our responsibility to find ways to make that investment go as far as possible.

We've made tremendous strides in that direction over the past five-and-a-half years through our Every Day Counts innovation initiative.

EDC is having a measureable effect on shortening project delivery, encouraging the use of new technologies, and generally helping states and local agencies save time and money that can be directed to additional projects.

Some of the process innovations, like Programmatic Agreements, have been written into law.

And we're re-writing the basic playbook on things like bridge replacement, where the public can now routinely expect bridges to be replaced in days, not weeks or months.

Last fall, we held a series of regional summits to introduce the third round of EDC innovations.

States are now working with our Division Offices to decide which of those innovations best suit their needs.

California has hosted several of these summits in the last few years, and they've been very important in helping people on the frontlines of project delivery learn about the innovations in great detail.

But Every Day Counts has always looked to balance short-term success with longer-term goals.

In the near term, EDC is bringing benefits to the traveling public and helping us make the case to Congress for future investment.

Longer term, it's laying the groundwork for a more lasting legacy - a transportation culture built around the search for innovation and its rapid deployment.

The backbone of that culture is the national network of State Transportation Innovation Councils or STICs.

The STICs cement the partnership between FHWA, the states, local agencies and other transportation stakeholders. They put each state in the driver's seat to pursue its own innovation agenda.

46 states have embraced the STIC concept.

And those that haven't, like California, have created other committees or councils that do much the same work.

We're especially proud that every state is using at least two - and often many more - of the innovations we're promoting under EDC.

For example, among other things, Caltrans is looking at innovations like electronic file sharing and 3-D engineered models to help make the construction process more efficient.

And it's made Design Build part of its contracting toolbox.

The bottom line is that across the nation, we see a real desire to look beyond "business as usual" to find better, faster and smarter ways.

This doesn't necessarily mean inventing the "next big thing".

Instead, it often means taking things that already work and giving them a boost so more states learn about them and use them.

The final dot we need to connect involves looking down the road a little bit – actually WAY down the road to the year 2045 to be exact.

Secretary Foxx was just out here at Google headquarters to unveil a 30-year framework for our nation's transportation system that he calls "Beyond Traffic".

"Beyond Traffic" is the product of extensive thought and engagement by people inside and outside DOT.

It's not a simple, prescriptive list. It doesn't advocate for specific policy solutions.

Instead, it's designed to start a national conversation about the major forces and trends that will impact transportation and society in the next three decades -- and to offer ideas about what might happen if we don't address them.

It lays out what we know -- and what we don't -- so transportation planners across the country can have a clearer picture of the challenges and opportunities we face.

And it recognizes that these rapidly changing times call for a new way of thinking and planning.

We used to be able to plan for a future in transportation that looked a lot like the past - just more of it.

We could afford to make incremental improvements to our system in a largely predictable world.

We can't do that anymore.

There will be 70 million more people living in the United States 30 years from now - many of them concentrated in mega-regions.

What type of transportation system will we need to meet the needs of all those people living so closely together?

Transportation decisions traditionally take place over a period of years.

How will that model keep pace with changes in technology - like driverless cars and unmanned drones - that are happening so quickly?

Do we need a new model for making decisions in advance of innovations we can't even predict today?

And how can we make sure the pieces of our infrastructure - roads, rails, ports, airports - work more effectively together as a system, especially when it comes to moving freight?

You're not going to move tractor trailers of freight by drones. Nor will all of those 70 million additional people be tele-working!

As you can see' right now, the framework raises more questions than it offers answers.

It was designed that way.

The solutions will come from people like you.

We plan to engage system users, shippers, developers, public officials, policy experts, the business community and everyday citizens in a frank discussion.

Is the transportation system we'll need 30 years from now the one we have today - only bigger?

How can we prepare for changes we can foresee - and those we can't?

These are tough questions, made tougher by the rapid pace of innovation and change.

But as the Secretary says, we need to have that conversation, and we need to start it now!

And by introducing "Beyond Traffic", he has.

Once again, I appreciate the chance to be part of YOUR conversation here today and to offer this brief rundown on what's taking place in Washington.

California has always been a leader in thinking about - and shaping - the future. We need your wisdom now, more than ever.

Thank you very much!

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Page posted on November 26, 2014.
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