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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, FHWA Administrator

Can Am Border Trade Alliance

Washington, DC

Monday, October 5, 2015 at 10:45 AM

Hello, everyone! Thank you, Jim, for inviting me back again this year.

It’s always a pleasure to speak with this group as you can probably tell by the fact that this is my 6th year in a row joining you at this event. That’s right – I’ve been here every year since 2010.

As the late Yogi Berra famously said, being here is like “like déjà vu all over again.”

I’m honored to be here representing our Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx.

Secretary Foxx is a tremendous leader and our country is very fortunate to have him at the Department of Transportation.

He’s shown the strength and vision to advocate for what our country needs.

And he brings a human perspective that views transportation as more than asphalt and steel, focusing as well on the impact transportation has on everyday lives.

He’s introduced the term Ladders of Opportunity into the transportation vocabulary – a commitment to making sure transportation helps link people safely to jobs, school, health care and other essential services.

And he’s doing everything possible to see that transportation provides the most basic step on that Ladder – creating jobs and opportunities for people who are often shut out from those possibilities.

While this is my 6th Border Trade Alliance speech, it’s my first since being confirmed as FHWA Administrator.

Our previous Administrator, Victor Mendez – now the Department’s Deputy Secretary -- was also from a border state, Arizona.

So there should be a smooth and seamless transition in terms of our commitment to border issues. I promise you: It will not waver.

As most of you already know, I’m from the great State of Maine. That gives me a deep understanding and appreciation of the important issues that face the two countries.

So know when you talk to FHWA about border issues, you have a friend in the Administrator’s office.

Having joined you for so many years, I’m reminded of the movie Groundhog Day, where the lead character, played by Bill Murray, ends up in a “time loop” – reliving the same day over and over again.

I feel a bit like that here today.

While each of us has gotten a little older, we seem to be re-living the same issues and subjects year after year after year.

In some cases, that’s a good thing.

Some issues are well worth re-visiting: the strength of our relationship, the importance of our trade and commerce, our mutual commitment to security, the closeness of our people and our values.

It’s also worth getting together every year to celebrate the strong and productive partnership between FHWA and Transport Canada, and between the various border state DOTs and their provincial counterparts.

But, at least on this side of the border, there are other issues that we’d much rather resolve rather than keep having to face.

In some cases, it’s time for the time loop to end.

I’m speaking about the failure of Congress to pass a long-term surface transportation bill, which has been a topic of discussion for as long as I’ve been in Washington.

When I first met with you in 2010, I spoke with both hope and caution about the prospect of reauthorization as the clock was ticking down on what was then our transportation bill - SAFETEA-LU.

I said back then, “There’s work being done, but I would anticipate a long process.”

Little did I or anyone else know how prophetic those words would be!

This summer marked the 10th anniversary of the signing of SAFETEA-LU by President George W. Bush.

It was not however, an anniversary that warranted celebration in our country.

And although MAP-21 gave us a two-year reauthorization, and did provide the foundation for a 21st century policy framework - SAFETEA-LU is the last long-term transportation funding bill this nation has had – one that funds transportation at a sufficient level and gives states the years of certainty they need to plan and invest.

Earlier this year, this Administration proposed a bill that meets those same standards. It’s called the GROW AMERICA Act. It’s a six-year, $495 billion proposal.

Some key concepts of our bill, especially in the areas of freight and streamlining project delivery, ended up in the DRIVE Act, a six-year bill that won bipartisan approval in the Senate and is now the vehicle for future discussions with the House.

Since freight movement and project delivery are two issues that directly impact the border, there’s a lot in the DRIVE Act this group would like.

But as Secretary Foxx has pointed out, while the DRIVE Act is a step forward, it falls short in the critical area of funding, short of what we proposed in GROW AMERICA, short of what our country needs today and short of what it will need tomorrow.

Let me step back and offer a little context that explains why the issue of transportation funding is so important, and why it should be of concern to people in both our countries.

Earlier this year, we released a study called Beyond Traffic. It’s a look 30 years into the future to the year 2045. It’s available online if you want to read it for yourself.

Before I share some of its findings, you may want to keep in mind what our transportation system is like today.

Some of you don’t have to think back any further than your commute into town this morning – congested roads, crowded transit buses and trains, an infrastructure badly in need of repair.

The state of our infrastructure is a main reason why the average American spends 42 hours each year – about one work week – stuck in traffic.

Here in Washington, they spend twice as long.

Some would call it poetic justice that Washington has the worst traffic gridlock in the country.

Now picture that same commute 30 years from now, when our Beyond Traffic study projects there will be 70 million more people living in the United States and we’ll need to move 45 percent more freight than we do today.

Then put those numbers in the framework of the US-Canada border, which last year saw almost 32 million passenger vehicle crossings and almost 6 million commercial trucks.

Our system is straining to deal with today’s volumes.

How will we deal with the tsunami of demand headed our way without a long-term sustainable investment plan?

We’ve been getting by – just barely – through patches, band-aids and short-term fixes.

We’ll need another one if Congress doesn’t pass a long-term bill by the end of October, when the latest extension of MAP-21 runs out.

But that’s not a sustainable path.

That’s a message everyone at the Department, starting with the Secretary himself, delivers every chance we get.

It’s something I emphasized when I testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee in my confirmation hearing.

Confirmation was a very interesting process. It included not only a hearing, but a round of one-on-one meetings with committee members.

Both publicly and privately, I assured the Senate that I’m committed to four main priorities, the most pressing of which is the one I just discussed – the need for a long-term funding bill.

I plan on doing everything possible to support Secretary Foxx in working with Congress to resolve the funding issue so that when we meet here next year, I’ll feel a little less like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day.

My other priorities are longer term and will be on our agenda for the foreseeable future.

They’re issues we continue to confront not because there’s been no progress, but because there has been.

Safety is one of them. It’s my top priority, as I know it is for everyone in transportation on both sides of the border.

We’ve made tremendous progress in this country to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads.

As Administrator, I plan to lead FHWA to make our roads even safer through data-driven strategies and through the rapid deployment of market-ready safety technology.

And I’ll continue – as my third and fourth priorities -- to expand our efforts to maximize the taxpayers’ investment in transportation, make project delivery more efficient and build a national network that’s focused on the evaluation and rapid deployment of innovation.

Those priorities are at the heart of our Every Day Counts innovation partnership, which we launched with AASHTO in 2009.

EDC has become a dynamic partnership among FHWA, state and local governments, and the private sector.

I’ve discussed Every Day Counts here before. It’s having a measurable effect on saving time and money on projects – savings that we can invest in additional projects.

With budget constraints at all levels of government, it’s very important that we continue to get the greatest value for every transportation dollar.

But first, those dollars have to be there. And that’s the issue we’re engaged in with Congress, urging them to make the investment our system needs.

I offer that as background because obviously what happens in one country impacts the other.

While our two countries are separated by a border, our relationship has always been marked by a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.

The ties that we have in common – trade, the economy, sports, culture and so many other things – are strong.

Transportation is the link that helps hold those common threads together between countries, just as it links communities, people and businesses within one country.

I know every state in the United States has unique challenges when it comes to transportation. And I’m sure the same can be said of the Canadian provinces.

There’s always more “need” than there is money. It’s a fact of life, and I don’t see it changing.

But I’m by nature an optimistic person. I think there’s enough momentum and enough bipartisan consensus that we’ll see a long-term bill emerge from Congress this year.

Will it have everything we want?

No it won’t. No one gets everything they want in a negotiation.

But we must break this cycle of applying short-term solutions to a situation with serious, long-term implications.

I want to turn for a minute from these larger issues of funding and priorities, and focus specifically on the border.

Borders can divide or unite countries – depending on the relationship, goals and values of the people on either side.

For more than a decade, the Transportation Border Working Group has been the main point of interaction between the United States and Canada when it comes to border transportation issues.

And it’s an excellent example of how a border can bring people and economies together if it’s administered and supported in a spirit of bi-national cooperation.

The TBWG focuses on policies and research related to border wait times and on technology that has the potential to help people and freight cross the border more efficiently – saving money for shippers, improving quality of life, and protecting the environment.

Membership in the Group includes the major agencies that have responsibility for border security and border transportation.

We take our role in the TBWG very seriously.

I’ve appointed David Kim, our FHWA Associate Administrator for Policy and Governmental Affairs, to be the Group’s chairman.

David and I work closely with the Secretary’s office, and in this area directly with Assistant Secretary for aviation and International affairs Susan Kurland. She and her team are responsible for ensuring there’s a coordinated strategy on border issues throughout USDOT, our federal partners, and the White House.

I do know David and our border team are looking forward to the Working Group’s annual fall meeting, which will take place in Toronto later this month.

Working through the TBWG, the United States and Canada have generated some important momentum on several key projects.

FHWA and Transport Canada are currently updating and revising a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines our working relationship on border projects and activities.

And the two countries are working on the third version of the Border Infrastructure Investment Plan, which gathers in one document all the existing and planned infrastructure improvements along the border.

As you might imagine, given the size and importance of the trading relationship between the two countries, the TBWG deals with a lot of freight issues.

Improving freight movement is already an important issue here in the United States.

Shippers spend $27 billion each year in extra shipping costs because of delays on the road – raising the price of goods for all consumers.

And when you take into account the projections I mentioned earlier from Beyond Traffic -- a 45 percent increase in freight over the next 30 years -- the issue is only going to get more critical.

FHWA is actively engaged in the research and deployment of border weight time technology that would benefit shippers and non-shippers.

This is in keeping with a major priority of Secretary Foxx to bring innovative solutions – whether it’s process innovations or innovative technology – to improving project delivery, safety and mobility.

In terms of freight, FHWA’s freight office is working with Transport Canada to coordinate the deployment of border wait time technology at the 20 busiest crossings identified in the Beyond the Border Action Plan.

While not every border crossing is seeing major delays, the widespread deployment of this technology will play a critical role as freight movement continues to grow – not just along our northern border, but along our border with Mexico as well.

Last December, FHWA hosted our Canadian and Mexican counterparts in a Tri-National Border Wait Time Peer Exchange.

I’m told the event inspired a very useful exchange of ideas and best practices.

We also hosted a Freight Peer Exchange in May with our Canadian partners.

It was another excellent opportunity to share ideas about freight movement, how to reduce congestion and how to cut border wait times.

On the passenger side, FHWA has collaborated with researchers at Western Washington University on research into the impact that trusted traveler programs, like NEXUS, have on reducing border wait times.

We hope this research will lead to broader discussions with all border stakeholders into ways to improve efficiency at the crossings while maintaining security.

I assure you as Administrator, on behalf of the Secretary, David, and our entire team - that FHWA will continue to work with our partners in the Transportation Border Working Group to find cooperative solutions to border issues.

I mentioned that TBWG was updating its directory of border projects, and so I want to take a few minutes to highlight several of them.

Transportation projects, in general, are complex by nature. But coordinating projects across borders takes that complexity to a whole new level.

And so it takes a great partnership – like the one between the United States and Canada – to achieve success.

Here are a few examples:

In Michigan, the Gordie Howe Bridge project got some good news last week when a federal judge threw out most of a lawsuit aimed at blocking the project.

It can now continue to progress toward the construction phase.

As a former hockey player myself, I have a special fondness for any project named after a hockey legend like Gordie Howe. He’s one of Canada’s most valued “exports” to the United States!

This bridge holds tremendous potential for boosting the economy on both sides, including the economy of our great city of Detroit.

It also brings the promise of shorter wait times at the border for passenger cars and commercial trucks moving between the two countries.

There’s been an exceptional level of cooperation and perseverance among FHWA, Michigan DOT and our Canadian counterparts to get to this point.

In New York, work on the Gateway Connections project is underway.

I’ve visited this project personally, and I’m excited by its potential to improve traffic flow at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo – an extremely busy crossing for both cars and trucks.

The project involves the construction of a new ramp to connect bridge traffic – especially commercial traffic -- to the Interstate system and take it off local roads.

A Record of Decision was signed in June 2014, and construction has been actively underway since December.

The project is anticipated to be completed by June 2017.

In North Dakota, the environmental assessment is underway for a $12 million project at the crossing between Pembina, North Dakota and Emerson, Manitoba.

The work would involve reconfiguring the crossing to separate commercial vehicles from passenger cars.

That would be an important improvement at this crossing because -- of 120 crossings between the United States and Canada -- this one ranks fourth in terms of the value of trade crossing the border.

In fact, more trucks cross the border here than in all the other North Dakota crossings combined.

A number of stakeholders are involved in this project, including FHWA, Transport Canada, North Dakota DOT and Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation - MIT.

They hope to wrap up the NEPA process by next spring and begin construction the following spring – 2017.

In Washington State, work was completed recently on the widening and realignment on State Road 539.

This will help accommodate Canada's replacement of the Aldergove port, which will be completed early next year.

The new port will bring more freight and passenger vehicles to the area.

The completion of this project resulted in a wider and dramatically improved road leading to an expanded port at a formerly outdated border crossing

The $7.3 million project was paid for almost entirely with federal funds.

And, I’m pleased to note, it used one of our Every Day Counts construction technologies – Intelligent Compaction – in building the roadway.

I want to close on a note of appreciation.

If you’ve come to these meetings over the years, you’ve heard my favorite story about a long-ago Fourth of July during the War of 1812.

Because of the war, the people of St. Stephen, New Brunswick had been armed with gunpowder to defend themselves against the Americans of neighboring Calais, Maine.

But rather than fire the gunpowder in anger, the people of St. Stephen gave it to the people of Calais so they could have a proper Fourth of July celebration - complete with rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air.

It’s an amazing story of mutual respect and cooperation – even during difficult times.

You find the same spirit of unity expressed in the beautiful Peace Arch Park on the border between Washington State and British Columbia.

As the name suggests, there’s actually an arch in the park, with an inscription on each side.

On one side it reads, “Children of a common mother.”

On the other side, “Brethren dwelling together in unity.”

These words concisely and accurately describe the relationship that Canada and the United States have had in the past and will continue to have in the future.

Whether we trade in goods, hockey players or simply good will, we’re dependent on each other.

And I can say from personal experience, I can’t imagine a better or more reliable neighbor to have.

Thank you very much!

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