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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Deputy Administrator, FHWA

International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA)

Monday, March 30, 2015

It's a pleasure to join you here today and to represent my colleagues at DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

I appreciate Pat's (Jones, IBTTA CEO) kind offer to share a few words about the challenges and the opportunities we face in transportation.

In the spirit of you being here in Washington, I wanted to start by recalling a quote by the legendary former coach of the Washington Redskins, George Allen.

Looking at a team of aging veterans gearing up for one last run, Allen famously said, "The future is now!"

That's pretty close to the situation we face in transportation today.

When it comes to preparing our aging infrastructure to meet the demands of a growing population and a growing economy, the time to start planning and building is NOW.

That was underscored by a report that Secretary Foxx recently released called "Beyond Traffic," which looks at the trends and forces that will shape transportation 30 years from now, in the year 2045.

When you read the report, a couple of images come to mind, none of them especially pleasant -- like "tidal wave" or "tsunami."

Because that's what we'll face in terms of people and freight three decades from now.

70 million more people will call America home in 30 years.

To put that in context, it's the same as adding the current populations of Florida, Texas and New York COMBINED.

I can assure you, not all of those people will be teleworking!

For every ten trucks on the road today, there will be four more in 2045.

We'll need to move an additional 29 billion tons of freight each year and, no, it won't all be delivered by drones!

When you look at those projections, the word "tsunami" doesn't seem like too much of a stretch.

But that brings us to a question – a choice, really.

Are we going to drown in that tsunami of people and freight, or are we going to build an infrastructure that will allow us to meet it?

When it comes to answering that question, the future really is "now."

This is the time when we need to put people to work fixing the roads, bridges and tunnels we already have and building new ones for the future.

This is the time when we need to start closing what the Secretary calls the "infrastructure deficit" that threatens to undermine our economy just as our economic rivals are building roads, ports and runways at a furious pace.

I have two reactions when I think about the infrastructure deficit.

Sometimes, I get very pessimistic and feel that we lack the political will to do anything about it.

I think about the 32 times over the last six years when we've worked under short-term funding extensions, including the last one – schedule to expire at the end of May -- that included no increase in funding.

I think about Delaware, Tennessee, Wyoming and Arkansas – four states that have decided to put about a BILLION DOLLARS' WORTH of projects on hold because they can't be sure if money will be available after May.

It wouldn't surprise me if more states did the same.

I think about the 5.5 billion hours Americans spend in traffic each year, and the extra $27 billion it costs businesses to ship their goods.

And, yes, I think about more than 600,000 bridges with an average age of 42 years – approximately one in four of them needing significant repair.

But then, I snap out of it!

I take a closer look at what's going on, and I think that maybe THIS TIME we'll rise to the occasion.

I've actually started to think there's a real chance Congress can pass a long-term funding bill this year, a bill that would provide not only substantial dollars, but also certainty to states and local agencies.

I see Congress looking for something – anything -- it can agree on, and a general feeling that transportation is one area where it's possible to find "common ground."

I'm encouraged because people on both sides of the aisle are taking a hard look at funding.

And I'm encouraged by the tireless work of Secretary Foxx, who's traveled to more than 40 states to make sure the public knows exactly what's at stake if we continue to limp along from extension to extension, and from one short-term fix to another.

Maybe the planets are finally lining up!

In that regard, your event today is very timely, because just THIS MORNING, the Obama administration made a major contribution to the debate over our transportation future when we sent the GROW AMERICA Act to Congress.

It's a new and improved version of the bill we sent to the last Congress – the major difference is we're proposing more years and more money.

The new GROW AMERICA is a six-year, $478 billion proposal.

It will support millions of American jobs repairing and building our infrastructure, ensure that our businesses can compete in the global economy, and build Ladders of Opportunity that give people access to jobs and education.

It gives transportation planners the money and the certainty they need, and it continues smart policies so the money is used more effectively and efficiently.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • It invests $317 billion in the federal highway program – almost $12 billion more per year than we currently invest.

  • It continues our commitment to safety as our Number One priority by investing $16 billion in the Highway Safety Improvement Program.

    This program calls for reducing deaths and serious injuries on ALL public roads.

    We hope to publish the final rule on the performance measures for the program in August.

  • In addition to safety, GROW AMERICA generally sticks to the policy framework of MAP-21.

    As you know, MAP-21 required us to set National Tunnel Inspection Standards, which are in the final stages of the rulemaking process.

    This will be the first time we have standards requiring the inspection and inventory of our highway tunnels.

  • GROW AMERICA would provide almost $30 billion over six years for the President's Fix-It-First initiative to focus on repairing our roads and bridges.

  • It continues cutting red tape and streamlining project delivery.

  • It more than doubles funding for the popular TIGER program.

  • It creates an $18 billion multi-modal freight program to fund innovative road, rail and port projects;

  • And it continues the TIFIA program.

    You may have seen that last week the Secretary announced a $194 million TIFIA loan to help build five sections of a major project in Orlando – a planned 25-mile toll facility.

    I'll have more to say about TIFIA in just a minute.

Our proposal is fully paid for through revenue in the Highway Trust Fund and pro-growth business tax reform.

As we proudly send our proposal to Congress today, we do so with our eyes wide open. No one gets everything they want.

And we understand it might be optimistic to expect a long-term bill to pass before the current extension expires in May.

So we recognize that we'll likely need another extension.

But we see hopeful signs. And we welcome a vigorous debate over what our country needs for the future, not how to avoid one fiscal cliff after another.

But there's one area where there's no room for debate, and that's the crisis we'll face if we fail to provide an infrastructure that meets the needs of our nation and its economy.

That's why President Obama is determined to use all available tools to increase our investment in the roads, bridges, railways and ports that our Nation depends upon.

Last July, he launched the Build America Investment Initiative.

This Government-wide effort will support and expand the use of innovative financing strategies, such as public-private partnerships, to help close our infrastructure deficit.

As part of this initiative -- and recognizing that there's no substitute for adequate public funding – our Department is working with the White House, Department of Treasury and colleagues across the Administration to facilitate partnership and collaboration between the public and private sectors in delivering critical infrastructure investments.

Treasury also hosted an Infrastructure Investment Summit this past September, which brought together about a hundred thought leaders from all over the country.

We learned what was getting in the way of public-private partnerships and received a number of excellent suggestions for addressing those obstacles.

Over the years, USDOT has contributed significant services and resources to help project sponsors as they work to develop the funding, financing, and procurement strategies that will move their projects from concept to construction.

While much of what we've accomplished is consistent with findings from the Summit, we continue to explore opportunities for advancing public-private partnerships in this country.

In fact we've established the Build America Transportation Investment Center to further that effort.

We're pleased the Center is becoming the "go-to-place" for project sponsors that want to take advantage of its services, specialized expertise, and tailored technical assistance.

And, as I mentioned a minute ago, our new GROW AMERICA proposal includes a number of provisions that support innovative finance.

For example, the bill we sent to Congress today would continue funding TIFIA at a level of $1 billion per year.

TIFIA, one of the Department's credit programs, is a huge success story.

It's stimulated over $75 billion in infrastructure investment around the country by providing over $20 billion in credit assistance.

Since the enactment of MAP-21 alone, TIFIA has closed nearly two dozen loans and extended about $12 billion in credit assistance to help finance nearly $40 billion in infrastructure investment.

But we want to make sure that States can use – and count on – all the tools in the innovative finance tool box.

And so, the new GROW AMERICA Act would also give States increased flexibility when it comes to tolling, which can sometimes be an attractive way to get to a viable plan of finance.

That's why we proposed lifting the caps on the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Program and the Value Pricing Pilot Program.

Instead of just a few States being able to take advantage of the tolling flexibilities in these pilot programs, all States will be able to count on their availability when they plan their projects.

But if tolling is going to become a widely used tool, people must have confidence that as they travel from state to state they can pay their tolls seamlessly.

We applaud the work the tolling industry has done so far to address the requirement in MAP-21 for interoperable electronic toll collection – or ETC - systems by late 2016.

This includes steps toward national interoperability for users and toll agencies, like:

  • Helping coordinate "back-office" transactions among toll agencies;
  • Developing communications requirements for a possible national ETC toll tag;
  • And building multi-protocol readers and multi-protocol toll tags.

There are about 18 months until the 2016 date established in MAP-21.

We encourage you to continue your efforts to find ways to make it easier for motorists to seamlessly move among the nation's toll facilities and to ensure accurate financial accounting for the toll operators.

The tolling community has a rich history of customer service and adapting to changing needs and technologies.

We look forward to the interoperable ETC solutions your community will come up with.

Of course, technology is going to be part of our future in a number of ways.

The public rightfully demands that we put technology to work not just to make their travel easier, but to make it safer and to help speed the delivery of infrastructure projects that will improve their daily lives.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a demonstration of the robotic bridge inspection tool known fondly as the RABIT.

It's an example of how we can put innovative technology to work to help us get a fast and accurate picture of the "health" of a bridge deck.

Right now, the RABIT is being used on 24 bridges in Washington, DC and six Mid-Atlantic states.

But, over the next five years, we hope to use it on up to 1,000 bridges nationwide.

We're also working with our government and industry partners through our Every Day Counts innovation initiative to find better, faster and smarter ways of delivering projects.

We're advancing a number of new bridge technologies that are proving to be real game-changers when it comes to replacing old bridges.

Thanks to slide-in and other accelerated bridge technologies, bridges can be replaced in a matter of hours or days, not weeks or months – subjecting the public to fewer detours and delays.

These technologies – and many others – are making a difference in our ability to serve the public.

But, in my view, they also make an important statement to Congress as it considers future investment in our infrastructure.

Every technology that helps us save time and money or helps us work better, faster and smarter, also makes a case to Congress that we're good stewards of the taxpayers' money and dedicated to getting the most value for every single tax dollar.

So, that's my quick look at landscape as I see it here at the end of March, and the opportunities and challenges that demand our attention now.

But let's not lose sight of our greatest challenge, and that's to continue to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads.

Recently, Secretary Foxx committed the Department to join AASHTO in the initiative known as Toward Zero Deaths.

He pledged to use all the Department's resources – research, investment, public education, working with our partners – to support an approach to safety that says even one death on our roads is one too many.

Of course, each of us can do a lot to advance safety by taking personal responsibility and using good, old fashioned common sense.

And so, let me close with a reminder that has become a tradition in our speeches since Victor Mendez started using it in 2009, including in his remarks to this organization that December.

As Victor said it then, and as I remind you today: Always buckle your seat belt, put away your cellphone when you're behind the wheel, and simply drive safely.

Thank you very much.

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Page posted on April 3, 2015.
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