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Earlier this week, the White House recognized its 2014 Champions of Change in transportation. We present these awards annually, but this year's nominees are doing more than just changing transportation. They're changing lives.

Because this year we’re focusing on “ladders of opportunity.”

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This afternoon, I had the great privilege of joining President Obama at theTappan Zee bridge, where work is underway to replace this nearly 60-year-old bridge with a new one, appropriately called the New NY Bridge. There, the President demonstrated his ongoing commitment to making 2014 a year of action by releasing a comprehensive plan to further accelerate project delivery by expanding his permitting reform efforts.

Fast Lane readers might recall that federal agencies completed the permitting and review for the New NY Bridge--a process that can take as long as 5 years--in about 1.5 years. So, it's a terrific example of how we can meet the Administration's goal of cutting timelines for major projects in half--and in this case even more than that.

Photo of President Obama at Tappan Zee Bridges
Photo courtesy Peter Carr, The Journal News

Today, more commuters and commercial vehicles use this bridge than ever before – more than 138,000 vehicles a day--that's a 30 percent jump in traffic from 1990.  We know that for them, every day counts until they get a new bridge....

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Every year, we celebrate National Small Business Week to recognize the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.

Yesterday, Secretary Foxx visited Washington, DC's Symmetra Design, a team of planners, engineers, and consultants who have made their mark on transportation with innovative projects like the Bowie, MD, MARC Station Sector Plan, and the Rhode Island Avenue Great Streets Corridor Study.

Symmetra is also a woman-owned small business and participates in the Mentor/Protégé Program operated by our Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU)...

Photo of Secretary Foxx and O.S.D.B.U. Director Brandon Neal meeting with Symmetra
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It's quite a week for the transportation world. In addition to National Transportation Week and Infrastructure Week, last Saturday, at stations across the country, passenger rail fans across the country celebrated the 7th annual National Train Day, an opportunity to appreciate a mode of transportation that makes a real difference to many towns, communities, and people from coast to coast.

National Train Day banner image

Passenger train ridership has increased more than 50% since 2000. In fact, Amtrak has now set annual ridership records in 10 out of the last 11 years. As Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo told the National Train Day crowd at Portland Oregon's Union Station, "Travelers today have choices –and they're choosing trains in record numbers."

Not that long ago, in regional markets like Portland-Seattle and New York-Washington, DC, inter-city travelers chose air over rail. But today those numbers are reversed. In 2012, 69 percent of travelers between Portland and Seattle chose rail. And between New York and Washington, Amtrak now carries three times as many passengers as all the airlines put together...

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America’s growing population will require our nation’s freight network to haul 4 billion more tons of international freight annually by 2050, roughly the weight of 40,000 Washington Monuments. Since over 90 percent of imported cargo by volume already moves through our nation's ports today, a good portion of that 4 billion tons will be transported on American waterways and through our ports and intermodal hubs. So our infrastructure must be ready.

That’s why I was especially proud to help break ground yesterday on an Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) at the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) in Florida. By increasing the efficiency and speed of container transfer between vessels and trains, the new ICTF will help JAXPORT support America’s future freight requirements and create long-term economic opportunities for the Jacksonville region in the form of good paying jobs.

Photo of golden spike ceremony at JAXPORT; photo courtesy JAXPORT

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Cross-posted from the White House Blog

The United States was once known as a leader in infrastructure, and we're slipping: 

When the American Society of Civil Engineers graded our infrastructure systems last fall, they gave our road and transit systems a D, our bridges a C+, and our levees a D-.

But here's the real problem: The funding we have in place to fix them is set to run out by fall. That puts at risk more than 112,000 active projects that are currently paving our roads and building our bridges, as well as approximately 5,600 projects that are actively improving our transit systems — not to mention the nearly 700,000 jobs that these collective projects support...

Watch Transportation Secretary Foxx discussing DOT's infrastructure proposal at the White House Press Briefing on May 12, 2014

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Last Monday, I spoke to a large group – many of them high school and college students of color – gathered at DOT Headquarters for a day of “Mentorship, Careers, and Empowerment: Ladders of Opportunity for Young Men of Color.” The event was held by our Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (we call it OSDBU, for short), and the students were here to be matched with mentors and to learn about new careers or--perhaps--even land an internship.

Photo of D.O.T.'s James Cole mentoring students
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This morning, Secretary Foxx blogged about the opening of Denver's revitalized Union Station, a model for the nation of multimodal mobility and of innovative financing. It's hard to think of a better project to kick-off a week that features two key celebrations: National Transportation Week and Infrastructure Week.

N.T.W. logoOn May 16, 1957, Congress approved the third Friday of May each year as National Defense Transportation Day. And in 1962, Congress updated the request to include the whole week as National Transportation Week to provide an opportunity to celebrate the community of transportation professionals who keep our country moving.

Infrastructure Week 2014 is led by a diverse partnership of organizations including the U.S. Council on Competitiveness, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, Building America’s Future, 1776, the Organization for International Investment, the Value of Water Coalition, and the National Association of Manufacturers.

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Last week, the Denver Post ran an op-ed about the city's Union Station, observing that the past has become the future.

I think that accurately captures the revitalized historic station. Because more than 130 years ago, Denver's Union Station established itself as the heart of that city.  And with last Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, it reclaimed that spot. Because Union Station, with a new bus facility and rail connections, will significantly improve transportation options in downtown Denver and beyond.

It is once again Denver’s transportation hub, and the gateway to one of America's fastest-growing cities.

Close-up photo of Denver's Unon Station
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Cross-posted from Random Samplings, courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau

As cities take steps to increase transportation options, many people choose to ride a bike to work or walk. Timed with National Bike to Work Month, the Census Bureau has released its first-ever report on biking and walking to work. If you have ever wondered who chooses this form of commuting, this report highlights annual American Community Survey information on biking and walking but also offers new information about these travel modes for specific populations.

Although changes in rates of bicycle commuting vary across U.S. communities, many cities have experienced relatively large increases in bicycle commuting in recent years. The total number of bike commuters in the U.S. increased from about 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 during the period from 2008 to 2012, a larger percentage increase than that of any other commuting mode...

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