Every year on Earth Day, our nation renews its focus on the environment and climate. This year at DOT, we're paying special attention to how transportation decisions have different environmental impacts on different communities. For example, more frequent transit service can mean less exhaust fumes on a neighborhood street. That could lead to better health for those residents. In addition to lower medical costs, better health also means fewer days of school or work missed because of illness, and that translates to better economic opportunity down the line.
As directed by President Obama, DOT's Departmental Office of Civil Rights (DOCR) and our Operating Administrations seek environmental justice, a concept that recognizes the junction between a healthy environment and social justice--for all people. Whether it’s new interstate highway construction, or a major airport project, we have a vested interest in avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on marginalized populations--to preserve their health today and ensure reliable access to opportunity tomorrow.
This morning, our bus pulled up to its second-to-last stop: Garland, Texas, a city of about 200,000 outside Dallas.
If you’ve been following along with our tour, you know that, at previous stops, my team and I have disembarked the bus to see infrastructure projects underway – highways, bridges, transit lines – all things that are helping improve lives and promote commerce.
But I wasn’t in Garland to see anything, so to speak. And that’s because there isn’t funding to build it.
Yesterday’s leg of my “Invest in America, Commit to the Future” bus tour ended with a visit to the site of the I-49 North Segment K project currently under way in Shreveport, Louisiana.
A 19-mile segment opened last year, and construction workers are now completing the final mile of a 10-mile segment of the project, which is slated to open in May.
It’s a remarkable effort, one eight years in the making. And it’s going to make a huge difference – not just in the lives of the folks who live near there, but folks throughout the nation.
I started day four of my “Invest in America, Commit to the Future” bus tour by participating in a roundtable discussion with Congressman Bennie Thompson and local officials at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a great opportunity to hear firsthand about the challenges facing the region and the need to create ladders of opportunity to connect folks to jobs, schools, and a better quality of life.
On Tuesday, we toured the UPS plant in Louisville, Kentucky, and I spent time with UPS CEO Scott Davis.
Scott is a first-rate leader and commands a team that moves millions of packages a day that come into and out of their one million square foot facility in an average of 13 minutes. UPS moves packages in every way imaginable – by air, rail, truck, and ships. Scott will tell you that, for every five minutes they can save on transporting packages, UPS saves $100 million.
This afternoon, I headed to Birmingham, Alabama, where Mayor William Bell and local transportation officials took me for a ride on one of the city’s first hydrogen-powered full-cell buses and showed me downtown redevelopment efforts, including the desired route for future light rail transit service in under-served neighborhoods and plans for commercial and residential buildings near the proposed route.
After the tour, I visited the site of the future Birmingham Intermodal Facility, which, when completed next year, will tie together local buses, Amtrak, intercity buses, cars, and bicycles, and provide what’s rightly been called “a new front door for Birmingham.”
At NABI’s headquarters in Anniston, Alabama, workers are building state-of-the-art transit buses that help millions of Americans connect with their jobs. What they do is important not only for Anniston, but for the entire country.
This morning, I saw for myself the great work they do to provide transit agencies throughout the nation with new, reliable, fuel-efficient buses. I even got to see some buses that are destined for WMATA in Washington, DC – so one day soon I might get to ride one.
To start the third day of my “Invest in America, Commit to the Future” bus tour, I visited the east side of Atlanta’s planned BeltLine project. This 22-mile ring of trails and transit and parks will not only connect more than 45 communities, but will connect people with better jobs, better education, and a higher quality of life.
This is what the President calls a “ladder of opportunity.” And to get a sense of just how game-changing this project would be, all you have to do is look at how game-changing recent transit projects in Atlanta have been.
I want to introduce you to some of the people I am meeting on our bus tour. I’ve always believed transportation is more than steel, concrete, and asphalt; it’s ultimately about the people across America – those who work to build it and those who use it (all of us).
Yesterday, I met Wayne Cupp, the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine, and Furniture Workers – Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA) Local 84765 President at the Siemens motor plant in Norwood, Ohio.
Over the past two days, I’ve visited projects where investment in transportation has made a huge difference in peoples’ lives, creating jobs and lifting whole communities. Unfortunately, there are some communities where there isn’t enough funding for investments like these.
That’s why I visited Nashville, Tennessee this afternoon – meeting with Mayor Karl Dean and Tennessee DOT – to see the I-40 bridges.