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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Deputy Administrator, FHWA

North Carolina Association of MPOs

Raleigh, North Carolina

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Good afternoon, everyone!

It’s a pleasure to join you this afternoon to represent North Carolina’s “own” Anthony Foxx and the US Department of Transportation.

The Secretary asked me to send his best wishes.

He’s extremely busy these days talking about the issues that bring us all together here today – the future of our transportation system.

And so I appreciate the chance to offer a few thoughts on that subject from the federal perspective.

The theme of this conference really nailed it. We’re “at the crossroads” in terms of our infrastructure and all the social and economic impacts that are tied to it.

Are we going to continue to limp along barely meeting even the basic needs of our system?

Are we going to celebrate every time we just rescue the Highway Trust Fund from the brink of disaster?

Or are we going to start investing at a level that will allow our society to continue moving easily and safely, and allow our economy to grow and compete?

So whether you call it a crossroads or a tipping point or something else, there’s no doubt we’ve reached a critical moment in terms of our infrastructure – and by extension, our country.

Consider the following:

  • 65 percent of America’s roads are in less than good condition;

  • 25 percent of our bridges need significant repair;

  • Americans spend 5.5 billion hours in traffic each year, costing families more than $120 billion in extra fuel and lost time;

  • And American businesses pay $27 billion a year in extra freight transportation costs, increasing the price that American families pay for everyday products.

And, as much as our system struggles to meet the demands of today, we know the demands are only going to increase tomorrow.

Earlier this year, Secretary Foxx released a report called “Beyond Traffic.”

It’s a look 30 years down the road at the forces that will shape society in the year 2045. They really should give us something to think about:

  • For example, by 2045, we’ll have 70 million more people in this country.

    Just to put that in perspective, it’s like adding the populations of New York, Texas and Florida – COMBINED. I can assure you all those people won’t be teleworking!

  • And we’ll need to move 45 percent more freight than we do today.

    And, no, it won’t all be delivered by drones! In fact, for every ten trucks on the road today, there will be four more in 2045.

A tsunami of people and freight is headed our way, and we won’t be able to deal with it unless we make a significant, long-term investment in our infrastructure – starting TODAY.

But the reality is, we’re not doing that.

Over the last six years, Congress has funded our system with 32 short-term measures. And the level of investment has essentially been flat.

Today, we find ourselves just ONE MONTH away from the end of the latest extension.

The timing couldn’t be worse – right as the construction season shifts into high gear all across the country.

This has created a sense of uncertainty in state DOTs and organizations like yours – and that uncertainty is starting to take a toll.

Virtually every state is taking a hard look at its “to do” list and making tough choices about the projects to build and the ones to put “on hold.”

We’re talking BILLIONS OF DOLLARS worth of projects!

People who could be working on those projects are left sitting on the sidelines, and communities that need relief from congestion or companies looking to move their goods more efficiently, will have to keep waiting.

It’s clear we can no longer continue to simply kick the can down the road and declare victory.

Instead, we need a plan that gives transportation planners the money and the certainty they need to invest in major projects, along with the policies to ensure the money is spent effectively and efficiently.

Last month, the Obama administration sent that kind of bill to Congress. It’s called the GROW AMERICA Act.

It’s a “new and improved” version of the bill we sent to the last Congress. Some call it GROW AMERICA 2.0.

The bill would have sweeping implications:

  • Supporting millions of new jobs as Americans go to work fixing and modernizing our roads and bridges.

  • Helping our businesses grow and compete in the global economy.

  • And giving Americans more – and safer – connections to jobs, education and essential services.

Let me share some important details:

  • GROW AMERICA is a six-year, $478 billion proposal that includes $317 billion for roads and bridges – nearly $12 billion more per year than under current law.

  • It’s paid for through ongoing revenues to the Highway Trust Fund and a one-time tax on un-taxed foreign earnings of US companies.

  • It increases funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program – a commitment to our Number One priority of safety.

  • It contains almost $30 billion for the President’s Fix-It-First program to help catch up on some long-overdue maintenance.

  • It would provide $18 billion for a new multi-modal freight grant program.

    This will help fund major, multi-state freight projects that currently have a hard time getting funded. The goal is to reduce freight choke-points that drive up the cost of doing business.

  • It provides $6 billion over six years for the TIFIA program, which could result in $60 billion in direct loans.

  • It doubles the size of the popular TIGER grant program to $7.5 billion over six years.

    By the way, we’re currently taking applications for our 7th round of TIGER grants. The pre-application deadline is next week – May 4th – and the final applications are due June 5.

  • And it expands efforts already underway to streamline the permitting process while protecting the environment.

We’ve already made tremendous progress in the area of project delivery thanks to our Every Day Counts innovation initiative.

EDC is making innovation – whether it’s innovative strategies or innovative technologies – a standard part of the transportation culture.

And it’s playing an important role in making the case to Congress for more funding.

As an industry, we have an obligation to show Congress that we “get it” and understand the need to get the most value for every dollar we invest.

We believe that regional planning groups are an important part of that effort.

And so we’ve included in our latest round of Every Day Counts an initiative we call “regional models of cooperation” to promote more planning and coordination across traditional borders.

After all, traffic doesn’t stop at a geographic border. Neither should planning.

This initiative really takes its cue from many of the people in this room, because North Carolina has been a leader in bringing people together from different jurisdictions to work on common issues like freight movement, congestion and air quality.

We often cite the combined work of the Capital Area MPO and the Durham- Chapel Hill-Carrboro MPO as an example of effective collaboration and long-term planning.

And I also want to recognize the outstanding collaboration taking place among MPOs in the Piedmont Triad Region and the Metrolina (metro-LINA) Region.

We also include provisions in our GROW AMERICAN proposal that recognize the unique roles and demands of rural and metropolitan planners:

  • For example, we propose that funding to improve safety on high-risk rural corridors be made a priority.

  • We want to increase our investment in repairing the roads, bridges and transit services in rural and tribal areas.

  • And, of the $7.5 billion in proposed TIGER funding I mentioned, one-and-a-half billion would have to be awarded to rural projects.

We also want to empower local communities – the people closest to the action, so to speak – to make the decisions that impact their families, their friends and their neighbors.

And so we’re proposing that high-performing MPOs get control over a larger portion of key federal transportation programs.

Of course, all of this is just a lot of talk if it doesn’t get enacted into law.

But I actually feel somewhat optimistic – tempered by reality, to be sure – that this time we might see real progress.

There’s general agreement in both houses of Congress and among people in both parties that we can no longer afford the status quo.

Congress seems to recognize that we’ve truly reached a crossroads in the history of our transportation system.

And there’s a growing chorus of major stakeholders, including AASHTO, ARTBA, and mayors and governors of both parties, urging Congress to pass a long-term bill so they can get those projects off the shelf and put people to work building them.

But we also need to be realistic.

Hammering out a long-term agreement will take time, especially because there’s little consensus right now over how to pay for it.

The bottom line is that we’re probably going to need another extension of MAP-21. That’s no secret. The Secretary has said that publicly.

But let’s be clear: An extension shouldn’t be seen as a solution, a victory or a cause for celebration.

There won’t be any victory laps, certainly not at FHWA or the Department. No one will be spiking the football in the end zone.

An extension would only keep us from facing a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, a situation that would ripple across the country.

No, the situation we’re in today calls for vision, courage and leadership.

All of us in the transportation community are fortunate that Secretary Foxx embodies those essential qualities.

He’s a tireless, passionate and articulate champion for the importance of transportation to the future well-being of this nation.

His views are well respected on Capitol Hill and he’s been well received in the more than 40 states he’s visited since becoming Secretary.

Among the many things that baseball icon Yogi Berra said – or supposedly said – one fits the moment we find ourselves in today.

“When you get to a fork in the road, take it!”

In our case, our nation and its transportation system are at a crossroads.

We have no choice but to pick a path and take it!

There’s no doubt in my mind that the best path would be to put aside political differences and invest boldly and decisively in our transportation system – and our future.

Let’s hope all of us – regardless of political party – can travel that path together.

Again, I thank you for inviting me here today.

And I remind you to always buckle your seat belt, put away your phone when you’re driving, and simply drive safely.

Thank you very much!

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Page posted on May 19, 2015.
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