Fifty years ago today, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Urban Mass Transportation Act. It was our country’s first attempt to address the challenges of public transportation as a nation, and it focused on preserving transit as a transportation option.
Reflecting on the impact of the Urban Mass Transportation Act, President Johnson said, “The Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 was the first national recognition of the daily trials faced by the 70 percent of our population who live in the cities of this country. Our overburdened and underfinanced mass transportation systems were nearing paralysis. In 20 years, no other country in the world allowed its passenger rail service in urban areas to deteriorate as badly as we did –and we are the richest, most powerful, and most technically advanced nation on earth!”
The Federal role in public transit was instigated by the slow-motion disaster of crumbling transportation systems half a century ago. Today, however, President Johnson's dismay retains its relevance...
Last week, I swung through three states in two days, hopping from Kentucky to Rhode Island and then down the I-95 corridor to Connecticut.
Drivers in these states, like drivers in so many others, know their roads and bridges are in need of investment. In Kentucky, almost a third of the roads are rated in poor or mediocre condition. And in Connecticut and Rhode Island, close to three-quarters of the bridges are structurally obsolete. Twenty-mile backups on I-95 are all too common in those states.
I wish I could say I was visiting those states to off help, asking their governors, “What more can the federal government do? Where can we invest more in your bridges? How about your roads? Your transit systems?”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ask those questions.
Due to inaction in Congress, I was forced to deliver an entirely different message: “Soon, you won’t be receiving more transportation funding –you’ll be receiving less.”
Since I came into office a year ago tomorrow, I have been sounding the alarm bell on the need for greater transportation investment and a stable Highway Trust Fund.
To quickly recap:
- In January, we began posting our Highway Trust Fund tickers online and updating them monthly to allow the public to watch our transportation dollars dwindle towards zero.
- In April, we raised awareness about this problem by taking a bus tour through eight states.
- In May, we sent to Congress the GROW AMERICA Act, our four-year, $302 billion transportation funding proposal.
Today we have an update –and the news isn’t good.
At DOT, safety has always been our first priority, but it wasn’t until two years ago that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) was finally granted the authority to oversee the safety of all of America’s individual public transportation systems. While NHTSA oversees all of the nation’s cars, and FHWA ensures the safety of your roads and bridges, there was no federal role when it came to the nation’s subways, inter-city buses and other forms of public transit until 2012.
We got to work right away. One of the agency’s first steps in establishing our authority was to set up a new Office of Transit Safety and Oversight (TSO), which marked its first birthday last week.
The importance of safety in public transit was brought into stark relief on June 22, 2009, when a faulty signal resulted in a Metro rail accident in Washington, DC, that killed nine and injured dozens more. Although a rare occurrence, the tragic Fort Totten crash helped galvanize a bipartisan effort in Congress that responded to President Obama’s call for a Federal role in transit safety oversight.
In its first year, TSO has been working hard to put in place the policies and skilled team needed to help make a safe mode of travel even safer...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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...
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...