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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Administrator, FHWA

St. Louis Regional Freightway Summit

St. Louis, Missouri

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hello, everyone. It’s great to be with you this afternoon.

I can’t think of any place in this country whose history is more closely linked with trade than St. Louis.

What started as a trading post on the country’s western margin, is now a multi-modal regional freight hub right in the nation’s mid-section.

The westward migration symbolized by your majestic Gateway Arch carried not only people, but goods and economic opportunity across a young nation.

Trade, transportation and opportunity have always been linked to each other – and remain very much so today.

I’m aware how the building where we’re meeting today fits into that narrative.

As I understand it, Bissinger chose this location for its new plant because of its proximity to freight rail, the Mississippi River and the Interstate Highway System.

The catalyst for their move was the opening of the beautiful Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, which honors the World War Two vet and iconic St. Louis Cardinal.

I remember well joining Secretary Foxx here for the grand opening on a very cold February day in 2014.

As a native of Maine, when I say it was cold, IT WAS COLD.

Whenever the Secretary and I open new roads and bridges, we always make a fundamental point: Wherever transportation goes, opportunity follows.

And clearly the nexus of land, rail, water and air transportation has brought opportunity and jobs to this region.

I want to share a few thoughts with you about transportation and the economy and – most importantly – hear from you about the opportunities and challenges you face as a regional freight community.

Beginning in February, we’ve been holding a series of roundtables across the country focused on what I call the “freight economy.”

The freight economy is well represented in this room today.

As shippers, carriers, manufacturers and distributors, you move goods and raw materials from business to business and mode to mode – creating thousands of jobs.

But as you know better than most, the freight economy can’t thrive unless it’s supported by a strong infrastructure so companies can cut operating costs, run more efficiently and become more competitive.

It can’t continue to meet the needs of our nation, create jobs and serve the world’s consumers unless we have the infrastructure to create a seamless multi-modal system.

The roundtables have been a very instructive window on how that’s going.

We’re hearing about the challenges people face and getting their ideas for making the system better, safer and more efficient.

And, when the roundtables are finished, we’ll synthesize what we learned into a living document that cities and regions all across the country can use in their future planning.

I start each roundtable with a quiz by asking everyone to identify the source of a particular quote.

I know I didn’t warn you there’d be a pop quiz here today, but let’s see how you do!

Here’s the quote:

“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.”

The quote continues…

“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.”

So, who said it?

It certainly sounds a lot like what Secretary Foxx has been saying as he travels across the country.

But those are actually the words of President Lyndon Johnson as he signed the bill creating the US Department of Transportation 50 years ago.

The point I’m trying to make with that quote is that the challenges we faced 50 years ago – especially the need to improve our transportation system and reduce congestion on our roads – are still very much with us today.

History is repeating itself.

Certainly, as an industry you know a thing or two about congestion.

You know the burden it imposes on people as they commute to work every day, on companies as they ship their goods, and on the shipping industry as it struggles to meet the needs of its customers.

Right now, across the nation, companies waste about $27 billion each year in fuel and lost time because of congestion, bottlenecks and chokepoints in our system.

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

Demand on our system is going to grow – and grow dramatically – in the decades ahead.

Last year, Secretary Foxx released a study by the Department called Beyond Traffic.

It looks into the future and predicts that the country will be home to 70 million more people by 2045.

I can assure you they won’t all be teleworking!

We also project that freight volume will grow by 45 percent.

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

So it’s imperative that we start planning, investing and building NOW to be ready when the tsunami of people and freight arrives.

We certainly have our work cut out for us.

Right now, as we meet here today, our country has about $860 billion in un-met bridge and highway needs.

And so, faced with the coming tsunami of people and goods, and the work needed just to maintain our infrastructure, we face two very simple and stark choices.

We can accept the challenge and invest in our infrastructure so that more people and more freight BOOST our economy and become a source of prosperity for our children and grandchildren.

Or, we can keep the bat on our shoulders, so to speak – in a way Stan Musial never would – fail to prepare for what’s ahead and watch more people and more freight choke our economy and undermine our quality of life.

In my view, there’s really only one choice to make.

We’ve reached a transformative moment in the history of our freight economy.

In other words, the time to start planning and investing for the future is NOW.

We’re fortunate that Congress has given us some important tools for doing that.

We just closed the comment period on the nation’s first draft National Freight Strategic Plan, which was required by our previous transportation bill, MAP-21.

A lot of stakeholder input went into the plan – identifying bottlenecks, analyzing chokepoints and coming up with strategies for addressing them.

And we got terrific input during the comment period, which we’ll take into consideration in creating a final plan for release later this year.

The FAST Act, which President Obama signed into law in December, builds on that foundation.

The bill increased federal investment in highways and gave officials at all levels of government the certainty they need to invest with confidence in significant projects.

It maintains our focus on safety, keeps intact the performance-based program structure from MAP-21 and continues our efforts to streamline project delivery.

That effort has been focused since 2009 around our Every Day Counts innovation partnership with state, county and local governments, and the private sector.

In fact, the FAST Act codifies Every Day Counts by name, something we’re very proud of.

Every Day Counts is advancing process innovations that are speeding project delivery and getting life-saving, time-saving and money saving technologies into widespread use.

Every Day Counts is an important part of the freight conversation.

First, in an age of limited resources, it’s important we get the greatest value for every dollar the public invests in transportation.

And, second, given the tremendous need for new infrastructure, we need to speed the process of planning, designing, approving and delivering new projects.

The innovations being advanced in Every Day Counts, SHRP2 and other initiatives are helping us achieve those goals.

But of all the opportunities offered in the FAST Act, I’ve saved what you would consider the best for last.

The FAST Act puts a real emphasis on freight.

You’re well aware of one of them – the FASTLANE grants, the first program Congress has ever created that’s dedicated just for freight projects.

The application process for the first year of these grants is now closed, and I understand this region has submitted two applications.

Obviously, we’re going to have to make some tough choices.

But I know the Secretary wants to start funding projects as soon as possible.

The FAST Act also contains language that encourages each state to set up a freight advisory committee.

As an important stakeholder, I believe your voice needs to be heard.

And so it’s important that you take part in the freight planning discussions and the setting of priorities for this region.

I also want to highlight a couple of other initiatives at the Department that are designed to help communities improve their freight infrastructure and support their economy:

  • The FAST Act created a new National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau.

    It’s designed to be a one-stop shop for governments to get federal funding, financing or technical assistance.

    It’s something your government colleagues here in the region should know about.

  • You’ve submitted an application for a TIGER grant, so I know you’re familiar with that very popular program.

    We’ll be making $500 million available in this next round – the 8th in the history of the very popular TIGER program.

  • The Department recently published the Notice of Funding Availability for the TIFIA program.

    The FAST Act authorizes $1.4 billion for TIFIA over five years, and it expanded the types of projects that are eligible for funding.

    TIFIA allows us to support more projects with less money, because the TIFIA dollars are leveraged into state, local and private investment.

  • And we’re freeing up about $2 billion in earmarked money that has gone un-spent for more than ten years.

    Instead of sitting idle, this money will now be available to help communities meet their transportation challenges.

So, there’s a lot going on and a real focus getting dollars out the door so communities can start building for the future, reducing congestion and strengthening the freight economy.

A couple of things to keep in mind…

In the future, freight movement will become more and more inter-modal.

This region is uniquely suited to that environment.

I always advise people to take a “systems” approach and envision freight movement that crosses modes and jurisdictions.

Again, this region understands that as well as any.

Before I take your questions, I want to close with one more quote from President Johnson because it’s another example of the way issues repeat themselves.

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 Alan Boyd, still going strong at 93 – and it’s true of Secretary Foxx today.

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

In this case, I’m talking about the safety of the nation’s truck drivers – people you probably know personally -- and the people who share the road with them.

MAP-21 required us to do a survey of the availability of truck parking facilities in this country – safe places where truck drivers could park their rig and rest so when they’re behind the wheel, they’re awake, alert and focused on driving safely.

The survey results pointed to a lack of parking information available to truck drivers and a lack of parking capacity.

Along with AASHTO and other stakeholders, we’ve formed a national coalition to address parking safety.

And we’ll soon launch a series of truck parking workshops around the country to go deeper into the issue and identify innovative solutions that can be included in state freight plans and in state and regional planning.

But you can be assured that the safety of our nation’s truckers is a personal priority of mine.

Thank you, again, for inviting me to join you.

I encourage you to always buckle your seat belt, put away your phone when you’re driving, ABSOLUTELY NO TEXTING OR EMAILING BEHIND THE WHEEL, and simply drive safely.

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Page last modified on September 16, 2016
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