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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-16-006     Date:  September/October 2016
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-16-006
Issue No: Vol. 80 No. 2
Date: September/October 2016


Guest Editorial

Interesting Times

Photo. Headshot of Walter C. Waidelich, Junior, Executive Director of the Federal Highway Administration. The Department of Transportation is not an end to our transportation problems; it is a beginning in the search for new solutions.

--Secretary of Transportation
Alan S. Boyd, 1967

Fifty years ago on October 15, 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation creating the U.S. Department of Transportation, he said that the Department faced “a mammoth task--to untangle, to coordinate, and to build the national transportation system for America that America is deserving of.” That “mammoth task” remains an accurate description of the ongoing challenges that face the Federal Highway Administration.

As Francis C. (Frank) Turner, the only career employee to become Federal Highway Administrator (1969–1972), put it, road builders saw creation of USDOT as an attempt “to corral the highway program and put the highway bulldozer types in line.” It might have been a culture shock at first, but FHWA has become a partner in a grand enterprise to unite an intermodal transportation network that increases transportation efficiency and safety, supports the economy in a global marketplace, aids national and civil defense, serves a growing and shifting population, and gives Americans--as President Johnson put it--the transportation system they deserve.

One reason that FHWA, and its predecessors, have survived for more than a century is the agency’s ability, from one generation to the next, to adjust to changing times through innovation, as illustrated in this issue of Public Roads. Like its predecessors dating to the magazine’s founding in 1918, this issue illustrates how FHWA has always employed research for innovation, adapted the latest technology to improve highway transportation, and worked with its partners to implement those innovations.

One article in this issue discusses how FHWA stimulates innovation through the agency’s Every Day Counts initiative. The EDC program identifies and deploys underused innovations to enhance safety, reduce congestion, speed project delivery, and improve environmental sustainability, while helping ensure ladders of opportunity for all. (See “Building a Culture of Innovation” on page 4.)

Another article describes FHWA’s work, in cooperation with its partners, in improving the mobility of travelers with disabilities. (See “The Power of Inclusion” on page 10 and “Harnessing Technology To Ease the Way” on page 16.)

Back in the days when the “bulldozer types” needed to think only about highways, advocates of the other modes, whether land, air, or water, did the same thing--focusing only on their own bailiwicks. By pulling the modes together, USDOT helped the whole transportation community to embrace its role in creating a system that serves the most mobile people in history.

Linguists debate whether the old saying “May you live in interesting times” is a curse or a blessing. For FHWA, the mystery is easily solved: a blessing. The agency’s transportation experts have served as agents of change through decades of interesting times since FHWA’s forebears started studying roads in 1893 and since the creation of the Federal-aid highway program in 1916, the start of the interstate system in 1956, and the creation of USDOT in 1966.

More important, the future is filled with challenges, known and unknown, that FHWA is uniquely equipped to overcome.

Walter C. Waidelich, Jr.
Executive Director
Federal Highway Administration




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