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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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The economic news from President Obama's State of the Union address last night is good: "Our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999."

In fact, over the past five years, American businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs. That 58-month streak of job creation is the longest on record, and since 2010, we have put more people back to work than all of the advanced economies of the world combined. The economic growth reported for the 3rd quarter of 2014? The strongest in more than a decade. And our federal deficit? Cut by two-thirds.

As the President said, "The verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works."

Good news indeed, but no one at DOT is confusing that good news as a sign that we can afford to rest. Because we cannot; we can't rest on transportation, and we can't rest on opportunity. As President Obama pointed out, "No one knows for certain which industries will generate the jobs of the future. But we do know we want them here in America..."

Chart showing job creation over past 58 months

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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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The challenges facing transportation in America cannot be dealt with piecemeal.  They’re tightly connected, and they must be managed as a whole. 

For example, we know that populations are shifting and growing now and that 70 million more people will be living in the U.S. in the next 30 years. We know that new technologies like ride-sharing and Unmanned Aerial Systems (you know them as “drones”) are changing the way we travel and how we move freight.

But, we haven’t taken a good look at how one piece affects another. We’re not thinking big enough – or forward enough – to address the issues we’ll need to address if we want to keep our nation moving 30 years from now...

Photo of bridge with congested traffic

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With over 95% of all U.S. foreign trade by volume moving across oceans onboard ever-increasing sized vessels, barge tows transporting millions of tons of coal and other bulk commodities on our inland waterways, and government-owned and commercial vessels carrying U.S. military equipment and supplies to and from overseas contingencies, our Nation’s reliance on marine transportation is stronger today than it has ever been.

As the agency within the DOT that develops and promotes American marine transportation and the U.S. Merchant Marine, the Maritime Administration—or “MARAD”—works diligently to ensure the dependability and security of this system along with its intermodal connections for the movement of people and freight. With 2014 coming to a close, I have been impressed with my team and proud to look back on what has been a highly productive year for MARAD.  Most importantly, we delivered results on a number of measures to accomplish our mission...

M/V Cape Rise in Port Arthur, Texas

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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 the 2014 navigation season marches along on the Saint Lawrence Seaway, shipping volumes are generally outpacing last year's levels. That's a good sign because six Great Lakes Seaway System ports have already received a Pacesetter Award this year for increasing international cargo tonnage during the 2013 shipping season. They might well be on their way to taking home another award next year!

We award the Robert J. Lewis Pacesetter when a port increases its international freight volume over the previous year. The 2014 awardees for their 2013 performance are:

  • Port of Green Bay,
  • Detroit-Wayne County Port Authority,
  • Duluth Seaway Port Authority,
  • Port of Cleveland,
  • Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, and
  • Port of Monroe

Photo of Port of Green Bay

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This week, millions of Americans will travel to places near and far to celebrate Thanksgiving. This holiday offers us a particular opportunity to express our gratitude, and as we gather to share the blessings of friends and family, and the bounty of our country, I hope we also take a moment to honor the service of our military and the sacrifices of their families.

One of the things for which I am most thankful is the outstanding team here at DOT. Whether by road, rail, ship, or plane, Americans depend on a dynamic transportation system to reach their holiday destinations and return home safely. The Department's men and women --here in Washington and in field offices and air traffic control towers across the nation-- work tirelessly to ensure that our transportation system gets you where you need to go.

Photo collage of different transportation workers

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For five and half years, one of the best parts of my job has been meeting with mayors and people at the local level working hard to get things done.  To leaders like the National League of Cities members I met with this week, transportation comes down to improving quality of life.

I used to be a mayor myself. I served in Riverdale, Illinois, the first outer-ring suburb on the southern edge of Chicago.

Riverdale is a railroad town.  It has two major rail yards, five railroads that run through it, and two commuter rail stations.  So I understand how community leaders are eager to have safe, reliable, efficient rail connections but also the necessary tools to address challenges like blocked crossings or train horn noise.  Above all, they want to know that their communities are safe –and so do we...

Photo of rail yard

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