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Remarks Prepared for
Acting Federal Highway Administrator Brandye L. Hendrickson
Institute for Transportation Engineers

Washington, DC

Dec. 5, 2017  (8 p.m.)

Thank you ….  and thanks to all of YOU for making me feel welcome.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao asked me to extend her greetings to you too.  

As many of you may know by now, I spent much of my life in Indiana, working in Indiana’s DOT… most recently as the Commissioner of INDOT.

I came to Washington a few months ago to lead the Federal Highway Administration following a long line of great leaders.

With their background at the FHWA, Jeff Paniati and Jeff Lindley both know it takes a lot of people with skill and professionalism to carry out a mission as big as ours.

I was thrilled with the opportunity to join an Administration so committed to revitalizing our country’s critical infrastructure. The enormity of that challenge is daunting – but where there are challenges, there are usually engineers tackling them.   

You all know as well as I do, I get to spend the next several years working with Secretary Chao, focusing on three priorities -- safety, which is our TOP priority…  improving infrastructure… and encouraging innovation.

Though we all may come from different backgrounds, we can all agree that transportation is on the verge of one of the most transformational eras in history.

The Federal Highway Administration has an important role to play in building and shaping this future. 

Our interest in innovation is central to much of what the Department will do over the next several years. We have already seen innovation improve safety and convenience for travelers – from electronic tolling to rear-view cameras and automatic emergency braking.

But new technologies — such as automated driving systems — hold the promise to dramatic reductions in highway fatalities and expanded access to transportation for traditionally underserved communities.

So, encouraging innovation, while ensuring safety is more important than ever.

Safety remains an ongoing challenge. Last year, more than 37-thousand people died on U.S. roads.  Let me put that another way. 
Nearly 95 percent of all transportation-related fatalities in the United States happened on public roads or highways.

That is unacceptable, and we are doing everything we can to reduce that number. Zero is the only acceptable goal, and I know that is the goal of industry as well.

As you know, the Administration’s infrastructure plan is taking shape and will bring new resources to bear as we improve the state of U.S. infrastructure.

Infrastructure was a key part of the President’s campaign last year, and it remains a subject of great interest throughout Congress, state legislatures and elsewhere.
Fortunately, Secretary Chao has a lot of experience with this issue.

Through her leadership, we will guide investments that stimulate economic growth, maintain and improve the conditions of infrastructure and enable the more efficient movement of people and goods. 

By using innovative forms of financing and project delivery, building partnerships between the public and private sectors and balancing investments across various modes of transportation to promote greater efficiencies, the FHWA can maximize the returns to the American people.

Infrastructure is a key factor in productivity and economic growth. It has provided millions of hard working Americans with a standard of living that is the envy of the world, and it has given our nation unprecedented mobility, safety and security. 

Yet such qualities are threatened. Age, neglect and overuse are causing our infrastructure to crumble and weaken.

Congestion is problematic in many parts of the country and takes away from the quality of life, and from the family, faith and community commitments that are among this nation’s greatest strengths.

We face the continuing challenge of how to ensure adequate federal investment in America’s infrastructure.

We know the Highway Trust Fund is slowly starving to death. 

Secretary Chao and the President believe a different approach is needed. The President’s infrastructure proposal will include $200 billion in direct federal funds… which will leverage $1 trillion in infrastructure investment.  

So far, the Administration proposal is focused on giving higher priority access to federal funds for states and localities that have secured some funding or financing of their own for infrastructure projects.

The goal is to use federal funds as an incentiveto get projects underway and built more quickly, with “skin in the game” by state, local and private partners. 

Though the primary focus has been on tax reform lately, infrastructure remains a top priority and we expect a proposal to be right around the corner.

We will execute the first three strategic goals (safety, infrastructure, and innovation if you are still listening!) with the last strategic goal – Accountability

We will serve the nation by reducing the regulatory burden on states and improving efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. 

We will streamline regulations and improve organizational effectiveness of the department. 

As the Secretary likes to point out, things take so long today – and it is something we can improve. Delays can be shortened, if we do things differently.

To that end, the President signed an Executive Order to streamline and expedite environmental review and approvals for all infrastructure projects. 

The Executive Order sets out new coordination requirements and requires federal agencies to work together and issue one federal decision. 

As Jeff noted, I am not an engineer.  Not in the usual sense, anyway.  Most of my career was spent in Human Resources… which I like to think is a form of behavioral engineering.

But I’ve worked with and led engineers for years… so I understand a simple fact better than most:   The need for engineers – and engineering – has never been greater.

As the world of transportation evolves to accommodate automated transportation systems, from self-driving cars to self-driving commercial aircraft and trucks, American engineering will continue to be a growth industry.

Great gains have been made, and the work ITE and others in the engineering world are doing to inspire young people to embrace Science, Technology, Engineering and Math training – classic STEM curricula – will ensure we have the expertise needed to keep America moving well into the 22nd century.

You and the companies you represent make up one of the most necessary industries in the U.S. 

The Administration has collaborated with industries like yours to inform the development of the infrastructure plan, as well as on how to streamline project delivery and remove burdensome regulations. It is greatly appreciated.

I should add that the Administration is open to feedback. The White House has held roundtables, listening sessions, and published numerous Federal Register notices on project delivery and regulations.

Above all, we share your interest in a government that runs better and your perspective is critical to making that possible.

There is an obvious need for your thoughts on issues ranging from the “pay-fors” – how to pay for $200 billion in public investment. How to leverage that into private-sector support. How to ensure adequate financial resources long-term.  

From improving the environmental review and permitting process…  to advancing innovative funding methods and connected-vehicle technologies… to laying the groundwork for the President’s infrastructure plans…    there are MILES of work ahead of us.

Thank you for all those great questions.  Renewing our infrastructure will be a big job… but what a privilege it is to be a part of it.

We will keep America moving – but we can’t do it without you and your members.

Thanks to Jeff Paniati, and all of you for traveling here to share your insights with me. I look forward to working closely with all of you and ITE’s many members.

Have a happy holiday season – and please travel safely.

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FHWA Briefing Room | Speeches and Testimony

Page last modified on September 13, 2018
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