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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Administrator, FHWA

Self Help Counties Coalition Conference

Newport Beach, California

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 8:30 AM

It’s a great pleasure to join you this morning.

I couldn’t pass up a chance to visit this beautiful part of the country.

But I was also drawn to this conference because I share your commitment to focusing on the future.

That’s something we need to do a lot more of in transportation.

As an industry, we spend too much time meeting the immediate needs of today and not enough time planning and preparing for what’s coming tomorrow.

Part of that is the result of the way the federal-aid program is funded – something I’ll have more to say about in just a minute.

Transportation is also a project-focused business – focused more often on what’s happening now than on what’s next.

That needs to change.

There was a legendary football coach named George Allen who once said, “The future is NOW.”

Admittedly, Coach Allen was looking at a team of aging veterans who only had one or two good years left to play.

But certainly, given the time it takes to deliver transportation solutions and the way our population is growing and shifting, the time to start planning for the future of transportation is NOW.

As with most things, we can gain insight into the future by learning from the past.

We may not be condemned to repeat history – as one philosopher put it – but we can glean some valuable lessons from it.

So I want to begin this morning by looking at events from many years ago and talking about a subject you probably haven’t thought much about lately.

That subject is horse manure.

No, not the verbal kind we’re all too familiar with.

I’m talking about the real stuff and the threat it posed to the world in the late 1800s – a situation that came to be known as the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894.

Tens of thousands of horses walked the streets of major cities like London and New York in those days – pulling hansom cabs, buses, carriages, carts and delivery trucks.

This created some very real problems, including congestion.

But, as you can imagine, the biggest problem was manure – lots and lots of it.

The problem was so serious it became the subject of debate, analysis and even some fairly dire predictions.

According to the Times of London, experts concluded that if current trends continued, every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure within 50 years.

Surely, this crisis called for a solution – and fast – before cities were brought to an unpleasant standstill.

Of course, as we know, the crisis never came.

Forward-thinking people were already planning ahead and finding innovative solutions to keep people and the economy moving – without the unfortunate byproducts.

Their solution – motorized cars and trucks – allowed the world to breathe easier – literally – because the crisis had been averted.

Today, we face a new set of projections offered by a new generation of forward-looking people who’ve studied trends and analyzed data.

Their projections should cause all of us to start thinking, planning and building for the future.

The Department published their findings earlier this year in a report called Beyond Traffic.

Secretary Foxx is very proud of the Department’s work on this report – and rightfully so.

It’s become a call to action for much of the transportation community and started a national conversation about where the country is headed.

Let me share a couple of the Beyond Traffic findings.

First, we project that just 30 years from now -- well within the lifespan of many of us -- the United States will be home to 70 million more people.

I can assure you they won’t all be tele-working.

Quite a few of them will be out there on “the 5” trying to get to work or get home at the same time you are.

Second, we’re projecting that 30 years from now the country will need to move 45 percent more freight than we do today.

It won’t all be delivered by drones.

Much of it will still be delivered by trucks, putting more of them on the road than we have today.

In short, a tsunami of people and freight is headed our way.

It’s time to start planning and finding innovative ways to meet that challenge.

I know the head of our FHWA freight program, Caitlin Rayman, took part in one of the panels yesterday.

But I want to add a few of my thoughts about freight in the context of Beyond Traffic.

Imagine for a minute what a 45 percent increase in freight volume could mean for Southern California.

How would more freight impact your two major ports, your major air cargo facilities, and an already congested network of rails and roads?

It will take innovative thinking, long-range planning and innovative investment strategies if we’re going to meet that growing demand for moving goods.

Fortunately, we’re already making progress in that direction.

And five talented and dedicated Californians are among the people who are contributing to that effort.

In the spring of 2013, the Department set up the National Freight Advisory Committee – or N-FAC – to advise the Department on freight issues, including carrying out the freight provisions of MAP-21.

The Committee is chaired by your colleague Randy Iwasaki of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, and it includes your fellow Californians Fran Inman, Kristin Decas, Bonnie Lowenthal and Genevieve “Gen” Giuliano.

The Committee has met periodically over the past two years, including a meeting in Washington last week.

I had the pleasure of attending that meeting and offering my thanks to all the members on behalf of FHWA.

But here in their home state, I want to personally thank the five Californians for their service and for their contribution to our nation, our economy and our ability to create jobs.

One of the main responsibilities of the N-FAC was to advise the Department on the creation of the draft National Freight Strategic Plan – a requirement of our current transportation bill, MAP-21.

The draft Strategic Plan was released last month, and is now out for public comment.

It’s truly a historic document, the first of its kind in our country’s history – and an invaluable effort that will help guide freight policy and investment well into the future.

N-FAC also played a critical role in developing the Primary Freight Network – a highway-only Network that met the 27,000 mile limit set by MAP-21.

But at the urging of the Committee, we also decided to take a more inclusive approach that reflects the true nature of the way goods move across the country.

And so we also developed a Multi-Modal Freight Network that takes into account first and last mile, gateways and inter-modal connections.

This Network was included in the draft Strategic Plan.

Thank you, again, to the people who brought so much insight, experience and dedication to that effort.

The work we’re doing to create a forward-looking freight policy is just one example of the lessons we can learn from countless events, including those of 1894.

If you don’t want problems to start “piling up” – so to speak -- the time to start applying innovation plans and solutions is now.

We’re also making tremendous progress in that direction through an innovation partnership with state and local governments and the private sector known as Every Day Counts.

Every Day Counts is not built around the model of the lonely inventor tinkering in his garage.

Instead, since it was launched in 2009, EDC has been focused on taking things that we know already work and encouraging our partners to deploy them on a wide scale basis.

This includes process innovations to streamline project delivery and technologies that improve safety, protect the environment and generally help save time and money.

Thanks to our focus on innovation, we’re delivering the benefits of new projects sooner and giving the public the greatest value for its transportation dollars.

There are plenty of success stories that show the impact these innovations are having, including many successes here in California:

  • When we started EDC, there were about 200 Programmatic Agreements in place nationwide. Today there are more than 500.

    Here in California, various parties worked together to update and renew an Agreement streamlining the review of projects that impact historic properties.

    Between 2011 and 2013, this streamlined review process saved $1.6 million.

  • Every Day Counts is also encouraging states to make greater use of digital technology to share data and documents. An entire suite of e-Construction tools is making the project design, approval and delivery process more efficient.

    All new projects in this state are now designed using one of those 3-D Modeling technologies.

  • One of the most successful and popular technologies is Accelerated Bridge Construction, which Caltrans used recently to restore the I-10 bridge at Desert Center in just over two months.

    All across the country, this technology is allowing bridges to be moved into place in a matter of days, instead of weeks and months – sparing the public from long detours and delays.

  • And on the safety side, Caltrans estimates that more than 250 locations will be treated with High Friction Surface Treatments by the end of this year.

Later this year, we’ll start soliciting ideas for the fourth round of EDC.

And we continue our efforts to link the states in a national innovation network that makes the systematic deployment of innovation a standard part of the transportation business model.

So we’re preparing to meet the future -- and the growing demands our system will face – through analysis, planning and innovation.

But there’s one important piece of the equation I haven’t talked about.

It’s a critical area that – more than any other -- will determine our ability to meet the demands our system will face in the future.

Of course, I’m talking about funding.

But for the first time in a while there could be some good news on that subject.

A congressional conference committee is in the final stages of writing a multi-year transportation bill that will soon go to the full House and Senate for a final vote.

We certainly applaud the concept of a multi-year bill.

We haven’t had one since SAFETEA-LU was signed 10 years ago, relying instead on two years of MAP-21 and a series of short-term extensions and patches.

We would have hoped for a larger investment than what’s being talked about.

This doesn’t appear to be the robust bill the Administration proposed earlier this year and that our nation needs.

Our GROW AMERICA proposal would have increased highway funding by 29 percent.

As the Secretary has said, GROW AMERICA was a proposal big enough to make a difference!

But we would welcome a bill that gives us a few years to focus totally on our mission and not worry every few months whether we can keep the lights on and the doors open.

That’s the other reason I wanted to come here today – to commend you for setting an example for the nation on how to fund and deliver projects.

I think it’s time the policymakers in Washington learned a lesson from this Coalition and your tremendous success meeting the needs of your constituents. .

I’m not talking about taxes or tax policy, which isn’t the responsibility of the Executive Branch.

I’m talking about something even more fundamental that should be the responsibility of everyone in government.

I’m talking about LIVING UP TO A COMMITMENT.

I’ve been told that this Coalition operates under a very simple and simply stated philosophy – “Promises Made. Promises Kept.”

You go to the voters with a plan for addressing a specific need and say, “If you’re willing to pay for it, we’ll build it.”

If the answer is yes – if the people are literally willing to tax themselves to pay for a specific solution -- you hold yourselves accountable and you deliver.

A problem, a solution, a commitment by taxpayers, a commitment by government -- what a novel concept!

If only things were that simple in Washington!

Again, I’m not talking about raising taxes.

I’m talking about the fundamental failure of Washington to meet its commitment to provide our people and our economy with the infrastructure it needs.

Secretary Foxx has traveled this country from one end to the other explaining that our roads and bridges are barely able to meet our needs today – much less in the future.

We draw maps and create strategic plans and design all sorts of systems and then can’t summon the will to do more than hold the line and keep the status quo.

We confuse words with action and motion with progress. We shy from the tough choices.

Promises are made, but they’re not always kept.

Meanwhile, Americans spend more than five billion hours stuck in traffic each year, costing families $120 billion in extra fuel and lost time and doing damage to our natural environment.

And our businesses – engines of job creation – pay $27 billion in extra freight costs, raising the price of the products we all use.

Most tragically, when we fail to keep our promises, we run the risk of preventing millions of people from embracing the opportunities they deserve.

Secretary Foxx has introduced a concept into the transportation culture that he calls Ladders of Opportunity.

No, it’s not another government program.

It’s a philosophy, a way of thinking and a way of seeing transportation less as a function and more as a connection to jobs, education, health care and opportunity in general.

The Secretary comes to this issue from the perspective of the community where he grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As he tells it, his community was literally cut off by two highways.

It was hard for the people living in the community to access even basic services because the various ramps and overpasses created barriers.

And grocery stores and pharmacies were reluctant to locate there because it was so hard to get to.

So this is something that’s important to the Secretary both personally and professionally.

He believes transportation should not only link people to opportunity, but bring opportunity to people where they live.

The relationship between transportation and opportunity is one we should all embrace.

We must “make good” on the promise of opportunity that should be the right of every American.

Ultimately, the American people deserve transportation that’s safe and reliable – a system that works like it should, provides the connections they need, and is every bit as good as the people themselves.

That promise is inherent in our system of government and the social contract that exists between the government and the governed.

I look forward to working with you in keeping that promise to the American people.

Thank you very much!

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