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Remarks Prepared for
Acting Federal Highway Administrator Brandye L. Hendrickson
Women’s Transportation Seminar

Washington, DC

Dec. 8, 2017

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

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao asked Jane and I to share her greetings with you too.  

As we can personally attest, there is plenty of room for women in the transportation field.  It’s especially nice to be here with my former counterparts Susan Martinovich and Paula Hammond.  They led their state DOTs, as I did in Indiana.

I came to Washington a few months ago to lead the Federal Highway Administration where I am responsible for the safety and operations of more than four million miles of road…

It takes a lot of people with a lot of different skills to carry out a mission that big.

We are committed to refurbishing and revitalizing our country’s critical infrastructure. The enormity of that challenge is daunting – but men can’t solve them alone. 

Jane and I will spend the next several years working with Secretary Chao to address three priorities -- safety, which is our TOP priority…  improving infrastructure… and encouraging innovation.

This last one is especially important.  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. 

Innovation is central to much of what the USDOT 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 the mobility impaired and underserved communities.

So promoting innovation and safety together is more important than ever.

Safety remains an ongoing challenge. Last year, more than 37,000 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.

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.

Infrastructure is a key factor in productivity and economic growth. It provides millions of hard working Americans with a standard of living that is the envy of the world, and it gives 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 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.  This affects the FTA too, since their funding – like FHWA’s – comes from a federal tax on gasoline and diesel.  The same financial troubles we have, they have too, because modern vehicles go farther between fill-ups. 

And we know that simply raising the gas tax is not likely to be a long-term solution, as more and more Americans are moving toward increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles and even vehicles that don’t rely on gasoline or diesel.

Secretary Chao and the President recognize that 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 incentive to 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, the infrastructure proposal is slated to be announced early next year.

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. 

The need for women in transportation has never been greater… and the opportunities are limitless.

Our industry relies on civil engineering and mechanical engineers… which remain necessary… but we also need computer engineers...  people who can help us manage big data, logistics, supply-chain management and, soon, artificial intelligence and other next-generation transportation management systems. 

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 -- and those needs are gender-blind.

Great gains have been made, especially in the efforts to inspire young people to embrace Science, Technology, Engineering and Math training – classic STEM curricula. It is ensuring we have the expertise needed to keep America moving well into the 22nd century.

You represent more than half of the United States’ population, more than half of the driving population and soon – you’ll represent more than half of the transportation workforce. 

We need hard-working people, and we need smart people – but we ideally need people who know how to work smarter, not harder. 

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 all of us.  

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.

Have a happy holiday season – and please travel safely.

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FHWA Briefing Room | Speeches and Testimony

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