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As readers might recall, I'm sort of the product of a transportation business. My great-grandfather, Pete Kelly, was a trucker who put 13 kids through college--including my grandmother. So, I am where I am today because, for Pete Kelly, that truck was a key rung on the ladder of opportunity.

Now, Pete Kelly may have lived more than half a century ago, but the same route that he took toward the American Dream is still wide open to our nation's entrepreneurs. Transportation can still be a way up, into the middle class and beyond.

Especially when you’re helping build that transportation. At the Department of Transportation, we work to make sure everyone has access to this kind of opportunity.

Photo of road work

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Yesterday, I was in Texas with Secretary Foxx to celebrate big changes in the way we handle air traffic in and out of the four Houston-area airports.

These improvements are part of the FAA’s NextGen program, one of the largest --although not so visible-- public-works projects in our lifetime. NextGen transforms our radar-based air traffic control system to a more efficient satellite-based system.

The accuracy of satellite navigation allows us to completely redesign the airspace around what we call "metroplexes," multi-airport metropolitan areas like Houston. These redesigns promise significant savings of time and fuel...

Photo of FAA Administrator Michael Huerta speaking at Houston Metroplex celebration

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Today, we commemorate motorcoach travel’s prominent place in our nation’s transportation network for the past century.

One hundred years ago, Carl Eric Wickman, a Swedish immigrant and drill operator laid-off from Minnesota's iron ore mines, began a modest bus service to take miners from Hibbing to nearby Alice, a town known for its saloons. He charged 15 cents a ride in a Hupmobile. A year later, Wickman joined forces with a similar service running between Hibbing and Duluth. In its first year, the Mesaba Transportation Company earned an $8,000 profit, and American intercity bus travel was born.

The American passenger carrier industry has grown considerably since then. Today, motorcoach travel provides mobility and connectivity for millions of Americans and helps us meet our enormous energy and environmental challenges. The drivers operating these vehicles help ensure that motorcoach travel is a safe way for Americans to get where they need to go...

Photo of F.M.C.S.A. Administrator Anne Ferrro in front of 1914 Hupmobile

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Today, as we've been doing each month since January, the Department of Transportation updated our Highway Trust Fund tickers. The tickers are charts showing how much money we have left to spend on roads, bridges, and transit --and how quickly it is running out.

If you've been reading the Fast Lane this spring, you know that our budget analysts have projected a shortfall in the Highway Account before we reach the end of this fiscal year. So far, all of their monthly predictions have been on target, and this month was no different. Unfortunately, that accuracy is not good news, because it means we're still expecting a shortfall as early as August.

In a challenging legislative environment, that doesn't give us a lot of time...

Chart depicting end-of-month balances for the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund

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For decades, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, has been preparing leaders for service in the Merchant Marine, our Armed Forces, and other transportation careers.

Several years ago, the Department of Transportation pledged to restore Kings Point as a jewel among America’s five service academies. And the academy's new training vessel, Kings Pointer --which we rechristened yesterday-- is one sign that--together--we are working together to make good on that pledge.

Of course, we did more than simply rename the former NASA vessel. It returns to us having undergone a $3.3 million retrofit that makes it a true state-of-the-art training vessel for the midshipmen of Kings Point.

Photo of Jan Helis as she smashes a champagne bottle against the prow of the T/V Kings Pointer
Jan Helis smashes a bottle of champagne against the prow of the newly rechristened T/V Kings Pointer

There are other signs that we're making good on that pledge, too. Because a lot has changed on the campus in a very short amount of time...

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Over the weekend the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul celebrated completion of the Central Corridor light rail line, the single largest public works project in the history of Minnesota. The new route --known now as the METRO Green Line-- links the cities along one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the region and will significantly improve access to jobs and other opportunities for thousands of residents.

A project like the METRO Green Line doesn't happen without cooperation and coordination, and this one was made possible by an extraordinary partnership among state, county, city, and federal governments as well as local organizations and community members.

Photo of Green Line ribbon-cutting courtesy Pioneer Press, John Autey
Ribbon-cutting for the METRO Green Line; photo courtesy Pioneer Press / John Autey

The Obama Administration is proud to have provided nearly $480 million that has created thousands of good jobs for construction workers in Minnesota building this long-awaited link.

And not only does the new line connect people to opportunities--like jobs and education--it will also save them time spent in traffic and money spent at the gas pump...

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The I-495 bridge over the Christina River in Wilmington, Delaware, is tilting. If you're reading this in Miami or in Maine, you may think that's too bad for folks in Wilmington, and you may wish the Delaware DOT all the best in fixing it. But it affects you, too.

Because for trucks and cars heading to and from Philadelphia and other points, I-495 provides a key route around downtown Wilmington on the already-congested I-95, the east coast's primary north-south Interstate. It also provides access to and from the Port of Wilmington. And until the Christina Bridge is repaired and reopened, freight—and people--traveling through the mid-Atlantic region on I-95 are likely to encounter significant delays.

Photo of Secretary Fox and others at I-495 bridge near Wilmington, Delaware
At the bridge site in Wilmington. Photos courtesy office of U.S. Senator Tom Carper.

The good news is that we have already begun helping DelDOT by providing $2 million in emergency funding to get started. And our team at the Federal Highway Administration is standing ready to help. 

But America has much more infrastructure that needs to be repaired --and much more infrastructure that needs to be built-- than we have dollars available...

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The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) is constantly working to foster safety and security in the maritime industry, both domestically and internationally. Recently, at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Maritime Security Seminar, I had an opportunity to collaborate and strengthen communication with our transatlantic maritime partners and share solutions on current maritime security issues and threats.

The NATO Ocean Shipping Transport Group discussions tackled both old and new threats, and MARAD remains fully engaged in meeting these challenges, particularly piracy...

Photo of ship at sea

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When is a train station not just a train station? Ask the people who gathered Monday to celebrate the groundbreaking for the third and final phase of the Niagara Falls International Railway Station and Intermodal Transportation Center, and you could get a wide range of answers:

When it represents a wide range of partners coming together and cooperating to get a needed project off the ground. When it increases the transportation options available to local residents as well as international tourists. When it stimulates economic development. And when it also houses U.S. Customs operations for the Department of Homeland Security as well as a museum celebrating the rich history of the Underground Railroad.

And they would all be correct. In addition to the Customs inspection center and the Underground Railroad museum, the new station will offer a more convenient downtown location, upgraded tracks and signals, dedicated passenger rail siding to eliminate conflicts with freight traffic, and improved passenger rail platforms. The LEED Silver passenger rail terminal building will also accommodate multi-modal operations like bus, taxi, and park-and-ride services, making it a true transportation hub for the region...

Rendering of the proposed Niagara Falls, N.Y., rail station

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Many Fast Lane readers know that I’m from local government. Before becoming Transportation Secretary, I was mayor of Charlotte and the head of our Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). And while I don’t hold those titles anymore, the old saw is still true: you can take the man out of local government, but you can’t take the local government out of the man.

As much as anything, I remember the competing interests, the complex web of issues and personalities that you have to navigate just to build a mile of road. I can’t remember who said “all politics is local,” but it could easily have been someone working for an MPO.

So when I spoke at the National Association of Regional Councils' annual conference in Louisville yesterday, it felt a little like a homecoming for me...

Photo of Secretary Foxx at N.A.R.C. annual conference
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