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Earlier today, I went to Capitol Hill to speak with the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee. Now, as Fast Lane readers know, we're in a new year, with a new Congress. But I went to the Senate to discuss an old issue: America's need for better transportation.

Specifically, as Senators and House members from both sides of the aisle have said, our country needs a multiyear transportation bill with funding growth and policy reforms focused on our nation’s future.

America is in a race. Not just against our global competitors, but against time and against the high standards of innovation and progress our nation has upheld for generations. You don't need to read the data from transportation experts to know that we're slipping behind in that race. You can look around --at our road congestion, at the tens of thousands of bridges that need to be replaced or upgraded, at our cities' legacy transit systems. And when you are behind, you must do more than just keep pace; you must run faster...

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Those who read Friday's Fast Lane post will recall my challenge to America's mayors to help us help them raise the bar for bicyclist and pedestrian safety.  I went back to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting the very next day to secure more support from our mayors --this time for our long-term transportation bill, the GROW AMERICA Act

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Last July, President Obama announced the Build America Investment Initiative, an Administration-wide effort aimed at boosting private investment in our nation’s infrastructure.  And on Friday, Vice President Biden announced new steps that federal agencies are taking to bring private sector capital and expertise to bear on improving our nation’s roads, bridges, and broadband networks. 

You can read more about Friday’s announcement here.  These actions and announcements are the first steps that the Administration is taking as part of the Build America Investment Initiative’s two-year action plan.

These steps highlight important progress within DOT. When the President announced this initiative last July, he also called on this Department to launch the Build America Transportation Investment Center.  And over the past six months, DOT, the Department of Treasury, and more than a dozen other federal agencies have worked to stand up this crucial team, which serves as a one-stop shop for investors seeking innovative financing strategies for infrastructure projects. The Center focuses on facilitating access to USDOT credit programs and helping project sponsors improve project development and delivery. After all, the more projects can move toward completion, the better we can address the Nation’s growing infrastructure deficit...

Photo of highway bridge construction work

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Transportation access and quality are both important measures of the regional “connectedness” that is central to growth and prosperity. Reliable and affordable transportation is an essential ingredient for strong families and equitable, resilient regions.

Achieving equitable growth depends on having nuanced information about who needs to be connected to opportunity throughout a region.   Compelling data revealing who benefits from growth and who pays can help garner support for good, inclusive policy proposals.  Data is ubiquitous, but the right data —broken down by race, ethnicity, and geography— is hard to find.

That task has become a bit easier with the creation of the National Equity Atlas, a dynamic, comprehensive online resource. Produced by PolicyLink and PERE (Program for Environmental and Regional Equity), the Atlas makes it possible to track, measure, and make the case for inclusive growth in America’s regions and states, and nationwide...

Photo of city transit bus

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Over the past decade, highway fatalities have declined by nearly 25 percent, with the latest data showing a drop of 3.1 percent in 2013 from the previous year. While that is a remarkable success story, we have much more work to do. So my intention as NHTSA Administrator is to build on this record by strengthening what works and fixing what doesn’t.

And one thing that doesn't work is when industry fails to live up to its safety responsibilities by not disclosing critical safety information as required by law.

That’s why yesterday we announced two distinct $35 million civil penalties, totaling $70 million, assessed to Honda for failing to report deaths and injuries and failing to report certain warranty claims...

Photo of Honda assembly plant in U.S.

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Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take part in a groundbreaking for the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge between Kittery, Maine, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  It’s DOT's first project to break ground in 2015 and also the first of any project using funds from the latest round of USDOT Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants announced just last September.

Beginning immediately, workers will begin replacing the 65-year-old bridge, which carries an estimated 14,000 drivers each day over the Piscataqua River. The new span will also provide rail access to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, carry crucial commercial traffic along the U.S. Route 1 Bypass, and serve as the primary emergency alternate bridge for the I-95 High Level Bridge between the two states. It also connects the Maine and New Hampshire DOTs that are partnering in a joint venture to replace the crossing.

But the bridge will connect even more than the two banks of a river; it will connect centuries...

Rendering of the replacement bridge

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Earlier today, I had the opportunity to welcome students returning to Somerville High School in Massachusetts after their winter break. Actually, I was there to announce a Federal Transit Administration agreement to help fund the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line Extension from East Cambridge to Somerville and Medford. But it was entirely fitting to make the announcement at a local high school.

I’m the grandson of teachers who, like so many teachers, went above and beyond their job descriptions because they understood that they were paving the way for a new generation to go further. That's what education is about. And it's also what transportation is about...

Photo of MBTA Green Line train

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Earlier this week, I was in Dearborn, Michigan, to celebrate completion of the John D. Dingell Transit Center. This multimodal transit center, funded by a Recovery Act grant of $28.2 million, is a great example of how a collaborative approach to station development can meet the needs of everyone involved. The new station in Dearborn is a win for the disability community, freight shippers, and passenger rail.

One of the center’s most significant achievements is its accessibility. The platforms at the new station have been designed to provide level boarding to all rail passengers directly from the platform to the new fleet of passenger rail cars that will operate throughout the Midwest network. By coordinating respectfully with each other, project partners were able to engineer a solution that ensured the rights of the disability community and ensured the flow of freight traffic was not impinged...

Photo of F.R.A. Administrator Joe Szabo at Dearborn Station

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In Maine last week, within a day of each other, two events occurred that add up to one compelling argument for investing in America's transportation system.

One was resoundingly positive --the opening of the new Maine Kennebec Bridge-- and I was happy to observe that celebration firsthand on Friday. The other event --Thursday's collapse of a section of the Eastport Pier-- caused at least one injury and damage to several vessels and a truck.

The pier's collapse and the ongoing demand for the limited funding available to rebuild roads and bridges in Maine and across America are a clear demonstration of how we've starved our nation's transportation infrastructure for far too long...

Phot of old and new bridges across Maine's Kennebec River
New and old Kennebec River crossings; photo courtesy Kennebec Journal
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As readers of the Fast Lane know, transportation is about a lot more than just how we get from one point to another.  Transportation is, what President Obama likes to call, a ladder of opportunity.  It helps people reach better jobs and better schools, which means they can reach for –and seize– a better life.

That's especially true on Tribal Lands.

DOT is committed to working with tribal communities to build the roads, bridges, and transit systems they need.  And we've got a number of programs that are doing just that...

Phot of  reservation transit work
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