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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Administrator, FHWA

North Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Summit

Charlotte, North Carolina

Friday, March 4, 2016

Good morning.

It’s an honor to represent our nation’s Transportation Secretary – and your native son – Anthony Foxx.

It’s a daunting challenge to pinch hit for someone you know so well.

So I’ll make no pretense about being able to truly “replace” the Secretary on the program.

I can only say that I hope to be an effective messenger for his views on our Department, our transportation system and our future.

A few weeks ago, the Secretary kicked off a year-long celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of the US Department of Transportation.

He hosted several of his predecessors, including the very first Secretary, Alan Boyd, still going strong at 93 years of age!

We have a lot to celebrate this year as we mark this anniversary.

Working with our state, local and private sector partners we’ve been able to give the American people a world-class transportation system.

But as we begin our anniversary year, I was reminded of a quote by President Lyndon Johnson as he signed the bill creating the Department 50 years ago this fall.

Before I read you the quote, you might enjoy a bit of background.

The Department of Transportation was created in a whirlwind of activity that’s impossible to imagine today.

Today you hear more people talk about closing Cabinet departments than creating new ones.

But President Johnson realized we needed a new Department to coordinate our large and diverse transportation system, and to ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.

And so he proposed a new Department of Transportation in his State of the Union speech in January 1966.

He made the formal request to Congress in March, and signed the bill giving birth to the Department in October – a total of just 9 months.

Anyway, here’s what President Johnson said at that signing ceremony:

“Our system of transportation is the greatest in the world. But we must face facts. We must have the courage to let our people know that our system is no longer adequate.”

He continued…

“During the next two decades, demand for transportation in this country is going to more than double. But we can’t even meet current demand. Our lifeline is tangled with traffic jams and congestion.”

Sound familiar?

Secretary Foxx has been saying much the same thing as he’s traveled across the country the past two years.

It’s not that he’s trying to copy Lyndon Johnson.

It’s that 50 years later, history seems to be repeating itself.

Once again we’re being choked by congestion, enduring daily commutes that take too long, seeing businesses – and consumers -- saddled with the high cost of moving freight, and trying to sustain a system that needs both upkeep and improvement.

I want to spend a few minutes talking about what we’re doing to address those issues and keep history from repeating itself once again.

BEYOND TRAFFIC

First, we need to do exactly what President Johnson said. We need to face the facts.

Those facts are presented clearly and persuasively in a report the Secretary issued last year called Beyond Traffic.

Beyond Traffic is a look into the future at the population and demographic trends that will shape our country three decades from now.

It really shines a bright light on the kind of issues many of our younger transportation planners and engineers will have to deal with.

For example, we project the United States will be home to 70 million more people in 2045.

To put that in context, that’s like adding the populations of New York, Florida and Texas COMBINED.

I can promise you all those people won’t be teleworking!

We also project that in 2045 we’ll need to move 45 percent more freight than we do today.

No, it won’t all be delivered by drones.

Beyond Traffic was meant to start a conversation and to get people thinking about how we’re going to deal with new population centers, changing demographics and a tsunami of freight and people coming our way.

It’s certainly brought a sense of needed urgency to that discussion.

Our country is changing dramatically, and it’s up to all of us in transportation to not only respond to the changes, but to anticipate them and plan for them.

LADDERS OF OPPORTUNITY

That’s going to call for a change in the way we think about transportation – from something that helps us get places better to something that actually makes places better.

There’s been no stronger advocate for this way of thinking than Secretary Foxx – and no greater influence on the Secretary than his upbringing here in Charlotte.

While many of you are familiar with his life story, you may not be aware of the impact it has on his stewardship of the nation’s transportation program.

As he tells it, the construction of two highways – I-85 and I-77 – changed his neighborhood dramatically.

Gone was a community of inter-connected streets, corner stores and easy connections to friends.

In its place was a high-speed route for commuters that had the effect of cutting off the neighborhood from the rest of the city.

In case you couldn’t tell from my Maine accent, I’m not from here in Charlotte.
So, I’m not familiar with the part of town where the young Anthony Foxx grew up.

But what happened in his neighborhood is not unique to Charlotte.

In the Secretary’s view, those two highways became barriers – physical, psychological and economic barriers – for the people in his community.

Friends were separated from friends, stores and pharmacies didn’t want to do business there, and – according to the Secretary -- you couldn’t even get a pizza delivered to your house.

His tenure as Secretary has been devoted to making sure that doesn’t happen again – not just here in Charlotte, but anywhere in this country.

And where it is happening, he wants to fix it.

It’s not just a professional commitment on his part. It’s personal.

He believes that transportation should be a Ladder of Opportunity – especially in under-served communities -- that links people safely to a job, a school, a doctor or a friend.

And he’s challenged those of us in the individual modes – and all of you in the transportation community -- to work together to make that happen.

He’s launched a couple of initiatives at the Department designed to help things along.

One of them is the Ladder Step pilot program in seven cities.

Ladder Step is designed to give technical assistance and help attract public and private investment to bring game-changing transportation projects to communities.

Charlotte is one of the cities in the pilot.

Our work here involves supporting the second phase of the CityLYNX Gold Line, connecting the West Trade Area with Uptown.

The Secretary was here last summer to help you celebrate the completion of Phase One and highlight what it will mean to the community – less traffic, more economic development and a strong connection between people in under-served neighborhoods and downtown businesses, healthcare facilities and schools.

Another program the Department has launched is called the Smart City Challenge.

Charlotte and Raleigh are among 77 mid-sized cities that answered our invitation to apply for the Challenge.

The Challenge is designed to get people thinking creatively about how to use data, technology and innovation to shape how we move people and goods in the future.

Cities that wanted to apply to the Challenge had to submit a plan for developing a forward-looking transportation network.

The winning city will receive up to $40 million in federal funds, plus another $10 million from a private sector entity known as Vulcan Philanthropy to encourage deployment of electric vehicles and other strategies to reduce emissions.

The Secretary will be announcing the five finalists later this month and the winning city in June.

And while that winning city will obviously benefit, we hope the competition will lead to the sharing of ideas and prompt communities all across the country to start thinking about the steps they need to take to prepare for the future.

And, while we’re on the subject of grants and awards, the Secretary recently announced that we’re continuing our popular TIGER grant program for an 8th round!

TIGER was designed to boost local economies with strategic, targeted transportation investments.

We’ll be making $500 million available in this next TIGER round. The application process closes on April 29.

Programs like the ones I just described remind us that transportation investments are not just about projects.

They’re investments in PEOPLE and how we can create better, safer connections that improve people’s lives and connect them to economic opportunity and a better quality of life.

I like to say the most fundamental step on the Ladder of Opportunity is a good job.

We often talk about how transportation projects create jobs – especially for all the planners, designers, engineers and construction workers that take a project from start to finish.

The Recovery Act, which helped dig America out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, put people to work on more than 13,000 bridge and highway projects and made a significant down payment on revitalizing our transportation system.

FREIGHT ECONOMY

But as I’ve been traveling the country lately I’ve been spreading a different, more expansive version of that message.

I’m talking about the critical role our transportation infrastructure plays in supporting what I call the freight economy – the jobs at companies that make and ship goods, and in the logistics sector that gets goods and raw materials from business to business.

We’re holding a series of roundtables across the country to hear from people who are part of the freight economy.

We want to hear about the challenges they face and get their ideas for directing investments so we make the system better, safer and more efficient.

I’ll be conducting a roundtable here in Charlotte right after this summit with some of your experts and business folks.

We wanted to meet with stakeholders here because Charlotte is a major hub for shipping and logistics, and because so many people in this community work in jobs that are part of the freight economy.

And so while we’re facing facts, as President Johnson suggested, here’s another one.

The volume of freight moving through this region – across all modes – is expected to grow by 40 percent between now and 2040.

That’s very similar to the projections we saw in Beyond Traffic, which – as I mentioned – anticipates 70 million more people and 45 percent more freight nationwide by 2045.

Those numbers present us with a clear and simple choice. In my mind, it’s really no choice at all.

We can invest in our infrastructure so it allows all those people and all that freight to become a BOON to our economy – creating tremendous opportunity for our children and grandchildren.

Or, we can let the coming tsunami of people and goods become a chokepoint that keeps us from reaching our economic potential and diminishes our quality of life.

As you can imagine, meeting that challenge won’t be cheap.

This country currently has more than $860 billion in un-met bridge and highway needs.

We need investment and a strategy for directing those dollars where they’ll do the most good. And we need to start planning TODAY.

The National Freight Strategic Plan, which the Secretary sent out for public comment last fall, gives us an important blueprint for addressing the bottlenecks and other impediments to moving freight.

There’s also outstanding work being done at the state and local level.

This region is a great example of a community thinking ahead about how to improve the movement of freight so it continues to support a strong, competitive, job-producing regional economy.

I specifically want to applaud the metropolitan planning organizations, the rural planning organizations and your local governments for the work they’re doing to develop a regional freight mobility study.

FHWA is proud to support this very important work.

And we look forward to continue partnering with you as you complete what will be a comprehensive plan for meeting the future needs of the region’s freight economy.

Well done!

FAST Act

On the investment front, we start the year on a positive note.

For the first time in a decade we have a long-term transportation bill, the FAST Act, which President Obama signed into law in early December.

As a five-year bill, the FAST Act stabilizes the system by giving planners the CERTAINTY they need to plan and invest in projects that will create jobs.
The FAST Act maintains our focus on safety, keeps intact the basic program structure from MAP-21, continues our efforts to streamline project delivery, and for the first time includes a dedicated source of federal funding for freight projects.

We recently published a Notice of Funding Opportunity for one of the new FAST Act freight programs -- a discretionary grant program known as the FAST LANE program.

Applications are due by April 14.

In total, the FAST Act authorizes about $225 billion to the highway program over five years and about $60 billion for transit.

That’s an increase of about 10 percent per year for highways and bridges.

Now the ball is in our court at FHWA and USDOT.

Congress paints in broad brush strokes and leaves it to us to fill in the details that actually implement the new law.

We approach that assignment with a sense of urgency.

We’re in the process of posting fact sheets, funding tables and other information on our website that lay out the details of specific programs so your state DOT and local transportation agencies can hit the ground running.

At the Secretary’s direction, we’ve also set up working groups in seven key areas that cut across modal boundaries: Discretionary grants, freight, Ladders of Opportunity, project delivery, research and innovation, and the new innovative finance bureau.

The FAST Act is certainly not a perfect bill. But it’s the welcome result of two things you don’t see too often in Washington – bipartisan cooperation and compromise.

And it makes a down payment on the cost of building a 21st century transportation system.

EVERY DAY COUNTS

But it’s up to all of us to make sure we get the greatest value for every dollar the public invests in transportation.

And so I’m especially pleased that the FAST Act codifies BY NAME our Every Day Counts innovation partnership with state and local governments and the private sector.

It’s as if Congress said, “We like what you’re doing. Keep doing it.”

We have a great partnership here with North Carolina DOT and your Secretary of Transportation, Nick Tennyson.

Every Day Counts has helped states and local governments make tremendous progress in speeding project delivery so motorists and freight shippers can realize the benefits of new projects sooner.

And it’s gotten many life-saving, time-saving and money-saving technologies and other innovations into widespread use so all users can share the road safely.

Each state is free to make its own decisions about the Every Day Counts innovations it wants to deploy.

Just to give you a quick example, we’re advancing new interchange designs because we strongly believe they’ll improve safety, speed up interchange improvements and reduce cost.

I’m pleased that NCDOT has become a leader in using the new designs, like the diverging diamond, and showing that they’re a cost-effective way to retro-fit existing interchanges to improve safety and mobility.

We actually feature the work NCDOT is doing in some of our informational videos and publications.

By the way, we recently closed the solicitation period for ideas for the next round of Every Day Counts – EDC 4.

We’re in the process of vetting them along with our state partners and other stakeholders, and hope to roll out the next round in late summer.

SAFETY

I want to close with one more quote from President Johnson because it’s another example of the common themes and common issues this department has faced over the last half century.

This is what the President said 50 years ago: “No function of the new Department, no responsibility of its Secretary, will be more important than safety.”

That was true of our first Secretary – Secretary Boyd – and it’s true of Secretary Foxx today.

Safety is the Number One priority of the Department, a commitment that infuses everything we do.

Unfortunately, 2015 is shaping up to be a tough year on our roads.

For the first nine months of the year, traffic deaths across the country increased by more than 9 percent.

It’s clear we need to do more to improve safety. And we are.

This Administration is “all-in” when it comes to driverless cars, smart infrastructure and the promise they hold to keep accidents from happening.

But even when cars are driving themselves, the person behind the wheel will still play an important role.

And, obviously, they do today.

That’s why a new report from the Triple-A Foundation for Traffic Safety was so interesting – and a little disturbing.

When it comes to safe driving, people are saying one thing, but doing another.

For example, the study found that 90 percent of people think texting or emailing while driving is dangerous.

But more than 40 percent of them have done it in the past month.

Most people know distracted driving is dangerous.

But 70 percent have talked on the phone while driving in the last 30 days.

It’s clear we need people to not only “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk” when it comes to safety.

That’s why we urge all our employees at FHWA to be role models for safe driving behavior.

And it’s why I encourage you, as transportation professionals, to do the same.

I hope you’ll make your own personal commitment to safe driving and to being a role model for your family, your friends and your colleagues.

The best way to do that is to always buckle your seat belt, put away your phone when you’re driving, ABSOLUTELY NO TEXTING OR E-MAILING WHEN YOU’RE BEHIND THE WHEEL, and simply drive safely.

Thank you very much!!

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Page last modified on March 7, 2016
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