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Every life lost on America’s highways is a tragedy that causes immeasurable pain to the families and loved ones of the person who died. Our work at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—making vehicles and drivers safer—is about sparing Americans such terrible heartache.

Fatalities and injuries aren’t the only costs involved in vehicle crashes; there are also enormous economic and societal costs to take into account.

According to a study we released last week, The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010, motor vehicle crashes cost Americans $871 billion in economic loss and harm every year. This includes $277 billion in economic costs –that’s nearly $900 for each person living in the United States based on calendar year 2010 data– and $594 billion in harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries...

Photo of child on stretcher after crash

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I was honored to join Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the White House today to announce Local Foods, Local Places, an Obama Administration initiative to help communities improve access to fresh, local produce--particularly among disadvantaged groups who lack such access. Investing in regional food economies is an investment in rural America, and DOT couldn't be prouder to take part.

Farmers are some the most self-reliant, self-sufficient people I’ve met in this country. But for all that farmers and farm communities can do on their own –and they can do a lot– we also know there are challenges that require more help. And one of those challenges is making sure that farms have access to good transportation.

Photo of rural road and farm

As JFK explained the economic challenges that rural communities face, saying that, “the farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything retail, sells everything wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.”  

Although JFK said it 54 years ago, it’s still true: freight is a huge concern for rural communities. Transportation determines whether the crop gets to market, and the cost of transportation often determines whether it’s profitable there.

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As more Americans commute without a car, the Department of Transportation is working hard to help get them where they need to go. For most transit commuters, bus or rail make the most sense, but in many communities, ferry service plays an important role. And larger ferries, capable of carrying vehicles, can even help folks who drive get across waterways to their destination.

That's why Congress authorized the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) MAP-21 Passenger Ferry Grant Program and the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Ferry Boat and Ferry Terminals Facilities Program. And last week, the FTA and FHWA announced the award and distribution of approximately $123.5 million for passenger ferry projects and ferry operators across the country.

But if our surface transportation funding expires or the Highway Trust Fund runs out, America's ferries could be left high and dry. That's why, as Secretary Foxx said, “We need Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill so we can continue to invest in ferry boat services that provide ladders of opportunity for hard-working families.”

Photo of Puget Sound ferry

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Last Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Siemens Rail Automation plant in Louisville, Kentucky, and seeing first-hand how investments in rail infrastructure are creating jobs and improving safety.

At the plant in Louisville, there are 26 new, good-paying jobs in engineering, manufacturing, and assembling train control systems and Positive Train Control (PTC) components. Nationwide, Siemens has added nearly 100 new jobs –including highly sought after engineers, analysts, and other skilled manufacturing employees.

Photo of PATH rack demonstration at Siemens
Troy Martin, Plant Manager, FRA Administrator Szabo, and Kevin Riddett, CEO Siemens Freight & Products, Rail Automation. Photos courtesy Siemens.

PTC is the backbone of the next generation of rail safety, and these employees--as well as others like them--are at the forefront of developing this sophisticated technology that can avert accidents and save lives by slowing or stopping a train...

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It's no secret to Fast Lane readers that the GROW AMERICA proposal I sent to Congress earlier this spring has a number of elements that will improve the way our transportation system helps people and freight get where they need to go safely and efficiently. I'm also happy to share that GROW AMERICA has a number of features that would improve the environmental sustainability of American transportation.

This makes GROW AMERICA a very good fit with the Obama Administration's significant ongoing efforts to #ActOnClimate--including last week's report, “An All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy as a Path to Sustainable Economic Growth,” and yesterday's proposed rulemaking to cut carbon pollution from power plants.

The GROW AMERICA Act protects the environment, helps cut carbon pollution by increasing the efficiency of the transportation system and encourages transportation choices that ease congestion on our highways and improves the quality of life in our communities...

Photo of California road congestion

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In 2009, we made a special commitment to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), that we would take the steps needed to restore the Academy in Kings Point, NY, to its rightful place as a jewel among the nation’s service academies. And last Friday, we celebrated one of the results of that commitment--a newly reconstructed Mallory Pier.

If we are going to ask our USMMA graduates to serve their country with distinction, it's only appropriate that we should provide them the tools and resources to prepare them for that effort. America deserves first-rate mariners, and Kings Point attracts first-rate students who give a hundred and ten percent every day. They deserve first-rate facilities to prepare them for service, including a modern waterfront.

With the 2012 addition of a state-of-the-art training vessel, the T/V Kings Pointer, and now a new Mallory Pier, DOT has made that waterfront a reality...

Photo of Victor Mendez with Midshipman Erin Hofstetter, First Class and Rear Admiral James Helis.
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Today we announced $2.1 billion in federal support to help build the 3.9-mile Westside Purple Line Extension from downtown Los Angeles to the City of Beverly Hills, expanding transit options in one of the most congested corridors in Los Angeles County.

Map of proposed Purple Line Extension in L.A. County

In December of last year, Los Angeles County hit a demographic milestone, becoming the first county in America with more than 10 million people. L.A. County actually has more people than 43 of our States, and if it were its own country, it would be the 88th most populous nation in the world.

Imagine the challenge of moving those 10 million people to and from work, school, and other places every day, and suddenly it's no surprise that a region famous for so many good things is also famous for its traffic jams. That's what makes the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) such a critical part of the region. It's also what has led LACMTA to extend its existing transit lines...

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Yesterday, I visited two long-awaited projects in Florida, stopping first in Miami. That's where, last May, a giant drill named Harriet bored its way under the bay and broke through on Watson Island and the Port of Miami.

The Port’s new tunnels certainly are good for the city. The port moves thousands of containers every day, and one-in-five North American cruise passengers pass through there. Yet, before yesterday, the 16,000 vehicles traveling to the port each day only had one access point, so traffic backed up all the way to downtown.

The tunnels that opened yesterday will help help solve that problem, and their construction employed more than 500 people.

Photo of Secretary Foxx at opening of Port of Miami tunnels; courtesy Miami Herald
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According to Forbes Magazine, Austin is the fastest growing city in America this year. But with all that growth can come some growing pains. And one example of those pains can be seen on US 290, east of downtown Austin, where traffic has increased more than 78 percent since 1990.

And that has left folks stuck in congestion--every day. Luckily, things are looking up for local residents with the opening of the new Manor Expressway –a 6.2 mile limited-access toll road that is tripling the capacity of US 290 between US 183 and SH 130.

The benefits of this project can’t be overstated. It will improve safety for drivers. It will reduce congestion –and vehicle emissions.  And it will make transportation more efficient in Austin – creating jobs, increasing business opportunities, and improving quality of life.

Rendering of Manor Expressway

I visited Austin on Saturday morning to celebrate the opening of the new Manor Expressway –a 6.2 mile limited-access toll road that is tripling the capacity of US 290 between US 183 and SH 130.

The benefits of this project can’t be understated. It will improve safety for drivers. It will reduce congestion –and vehicle emissions.  And it will make transportation more efficient in Austin – creating jobs, increasing business opportunities, and improving quality of life.

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At this Department, our top priority is ensuring the safety of the traveling public. It always has been.  

Achieving that goal isn’t easy. It takes commitment from everyone with a stake in our transportation system. And we know no one is perfect. But what we cannot tolerate –what we will never accept– is a person or a company that knows danger exists, and says nothing.

Because silence can kill.

Photo of Secretary Foxx and N.H.T.S.A. Acting Administrator Friedman announcing G.M. penalties

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