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It's that time of year again, when our kids start making their way from home to school. For those of you who are putting a child on a school bus for the very first time, I know first-hand that it can be a nerve-wracking experience. My wife and I recently put our young son on one of those big yellow buses for the very first time.

We had many questions —will he be nervous when it sinks in that we’re not getting on the bus too, will he make new friends, will he like kindergarten, and will he get a great education? Most of all, there was that feeling of powerless when he eagerly stepped aboard and waved goodbye from his seat for the very first time.

But, as a concerned dad and Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I had checked the numbers. School buses are the safest way to get to school, even safer than in the family car. And when you are sending your little one off for a first solo adventure, I hope that fact will bring you comfort...

Photo of kids getting aboard school bus

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Regular readers of the Fast Lane blog have probably heard me say that rail travel has never been safer.  Accidents caused by faulty track, signal systems or equipment, and human error have decreased nearly 50 percent over the last decade to new record lows.  Employee fatalities are down 59 percent over the same period.  But one vexing exception to this continuous improvement exists: highway-rail grade crossing and pedestrian trespassing accidents, which together account for approximately 95% of all rail-related fatalities.

The safest crossing is one that doesn’t exist. And recently, I visited two places where our investments are funding capital improvements to eliminate crossings, make communities safer and improve their quality of life.

Last week in North Carolina I saw two of the 26 projects – all supported by our High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program – that are improving safety and service between Charlotte and Raleigh.  Between Lexington and Thomasville, North Carolina, workers are building two new highway bridges that will lift vehicle traffic above the tracks and enable three crossings to close.  In Harrisburg, two more crossings, as you can see below, will close thanks to a new 150-foot roadway bridge.


Photo Courtesy of John D. Simmons – Charlotte Observer

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Last week, I traveled to Pittsburgh to participate at this year’s North American Inspectors Championships (NAIC) and the National Truck Driving Championships hosted respectively by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the American Trucking Associations.

Earlier in the week, FMCSA Chief Safety Officer and Assistant Administrator Jack Van Steenburg kicked off the competition by recognizing the contestants’ contributions to safety and the agency’s appreciation for their professionalism.

In 2012 alone, truck and bus safety inspectors conducted 3.5 million roadside inspections all across the United States. These highly trained safety professionals are the backbone of our nation’s commercial motor vehicle safety program.  Their hard work and dedication helps ensure that drivers and companies operate safely and that those that don’t are removed from the road.

 
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Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of industry professionals at the Finished Vehicle Logistics Conference, where the theme of the discussion was the import and export of new cars.

I’m sure you’re wondering what vehicle logistics has to do with the Maritime Administration. And that’s a very good question. 

My role at this conference highlighted the critical —yet often overlooked— fact that maritime moves America.

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Yesterday, a new light rail station opened at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, making it easier for residents, commuters, and visitors to move between the airport and downtown. That’ll make North Texas more attractive and more competitive as an international destination for businesses and tourists and help the area build on the success of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s (DART) light rail. 

Earlier this year, the University of North Texas released a study that only confirms what many local have seen for themselves: in the last decade alone, the $4.7 billion that local, state, and federal partners have invested in expanding DART Rail has returned $7.4 billion in economic activity, created tens of thousands of local jobs, and supported over $3 billion in salaries, wages, and benefits.

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Last week, I flew North – way North – to Alaska and visited everywhere from Anchorage to the small fishing village of Unalakleet to Nome, where the Iditarod dogsled race finishes each year.

Everywhere I went, I witnessed the natural beauty of Alaska’s terrain, but I also saw how difficult traversing that terrain can be.

All states have unique transportation needs, of course. But because of its size, its geography, and its climate, Alaska’s needs are more unique than most. And that’s what I went to discuss: How the federal government can help Alaskans meet their local needs. 

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Over the past week I've had the pleasure to be joined by Congressional leaders from two different states for tours of two very different --but equally impressive-- rail sites. The Amtrak maintenance site in New Jersey and the B&P Tunnel in Maryland are good demonstrations that America's railways need predictable, dedicated funding.

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Every 51 minutes in this country, another person is killed by a drunk driver. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, friends, loved ones. It's an unceasing procession of deaths, every single one of them preventable.

Starting today and running through Labor Day, law enforcement will be cracking down on drunk drivers. More than 10,000 police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country will join the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, supported in part by our safety partners, the Governors Highway Safety Association and MADD.

If you drive drunk, they will find you. They will arrest you. You will be prosecuted, and there will be serious and costly consequences for having risked others' lives...

Photo of Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman at Drive Sober launch event

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Innovation was the hallmark of former Federal Highway Administrator --now Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary-- Victor Mendez's tenure here at FHWA. And it's no secret that Transportation Secretary Foxx has made it a top priority across DOT as well. Getting safer, more durable projects from idea to reality faster and at less cost just makes sense all around, and it's a key part of GROW AMERICA, the legislative proposal Secretary Foxx sent to Congress last spring.

In July, I saw firsthand the benefits of Pennsylvania's focus on highway innovation when I traveled to the Keystone State to see how state transportation officials are building a culture of innovation into their work. I left from my visit impressed at what the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) has achieved...

Photo of road construction in Lackawanna County

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Yesterday at the invitation of U.S. Representative Frank LoBiondo --Chair of the House T&I Aviation Subcommittee-- U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Chairman LoBiondo, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, and I had the pleasure of visiting our Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey. This was my first visit to the tech center, and I was really excited to meet with employees --there are 3,000-- and see the great work they do.

My only regret is that I wasn’t able to bring my 9-year-old daughter with me. Hilary, as you may recall from when I laid out my priorities earlier this year, has some big ideas about the future of American aviation. And I’m sure she’d love it at the Hughes Center because our employees there have always dreamed big.

Today, the hard work of turning big dreams into effective modernization focuses on continuing to develop our NextGen technology, the future of aviation...

Photo of Hughes Center campus

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