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Last week in Paducah, Kentucky, I had the opportunity to tour the M/V Donna Rushing. This tug, originally built in 1973, received a top-to-bottom renovation in 2011, making it one of the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly towboats on U.S. inland waterways.

Photo of the m?V Donna Rushing pushing barges up the Ohio River

While it may look the same as it did when it was first built 40 years ago, this workhorse has been updated with more than one hundred energy-saving and environmentally-friendly components. Two new fuel-efficient engines running on biofuel also double as heaters for the boat’s wheelhouse, galley, and cabins. Environmentally friendly hydraulic oils and lubricants as well as a shift to LED lighting for better illumination and efficiency add to the Donna Rushing's sustainable improvements...

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Recently I posted on this blog about my visit to a Siemens plant in Louisville, Kentucky, where investments in rail have created new jobs.

Well, to quote Yogi Berra, my visit on July 8 to Columbus Castings in Ohio was like “déjà vu all over again.” Once again, I saw proof that improvements in our rail system create new orders for manufacturers and suppliers, and new jobs for American workers.

During my tour, I saw skilled employees making components for one order that is modernizing Amtrak’s long-distance services.  Columbus Castings added more than 30 new jobs for just this one order.

Photo of a worker at Columbus Castings

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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.”

Photo of Secretary Foxx meeting with Connecticut elected officials

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From DOT: Yesterday, we marked the 58th anniversary of the Highway Trust Fund, an instrumental source of road funding for all 50 states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. Authorizing legislation for the fund, the Federal-Aid Highway Act, was signed into law and went into immediate effect on June 29, 1956. And for 58 years, the fund has supported repairs, maintenance, and new construction of roads, bridges, and tunnels across America.

Today, we're concerned about the 59th year. Unless Congress acts soon, the Highway Trust Fund could begin bouncing checks as early as August. That means states won't be reimbursed as planned for road projects. And that means trouble for travelers, businesses, and consumers from coast to coast.

That's why, today, we're continuing our series of guest blog posts from frontline elected officials who have to manage the consequences of the looming shortfall. We think Dayton's Mayor Nan Whaley makes it very clear how everyday American life counts on good transportation; we hope you'll agree...

Photo of replacement of Dayton-area 1927 bridge with rendering of new bridge

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With the economy starting to make a recovery, our aging transportation infrastructure cannot keep up with the rising demand to move goods and people.  Nationwide, cities and transportation stakeholders have long lists of infrastructure improvement projects necessary to meet the demand, but there just is not enough funding to make them a reality. And worse, the Highway Trust Fund is on the brink of insolvency.

It is my hope that Congress will soon reauthorize Federal transportation policy and provide a robust, long-term stream of funding to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund and support our nation’s transportation infrastructure needs.

I was very pleased that Secretary Foxx recently took the time to visit the City of Industry and get a first-hand look at two of our most important infrastructure projects, the Alameda Corridor East Construction Authority’s (ACE) Nogales Street Grade Separation Project (Nogales) and the California SR-57/SR-60 Confluence Project (Confluence Project). These two projects are classic examples of how strategic local infrastructure investments can trigger public benefits such as increased mobility, improved safety, economic growth, and environmental protection.

Benefits that can extend beyond city limits and ripple across the country...

Before and after photos of the Confluence

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It should be clear to Fast Lane readers by now that we at DOT are not the only ones trying to alert Americans to the fact that our Highway Trust Fund is on a collision course with insolvency.

On ARTBA's Transportation Makes America Work website, you'll learn that our highways and railroads carry 14.6 trillion tons of freight each year, freight worth $19 trillion. It's an eye-opening way of showing that transportation means business, and that business is in jeopardy...

Infographic illustrating the volume and value of freight moved by America's transportation system

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Last week, Secretary Foxx sent a letter to heads of State DOTs across the country advising that, with the Highway Trust Fund heading toward insolvency as early as August, we will soon be forced to implement cash management procedures —including delayed reimbursement for hundreds of road projects that employ thousands of workers.

To show readers how this funding crisis will touch their everyday lives, we’re turning over the Fast Lane to Mayors and Governors across the country this week, who are working on the frontlines to manage the possible consequences of a shortfall.  Each morning this week, we're featuring guest-authored posts illustrating how all Americans will be affected if the Highway Trust Fund is allowed to dip below zero.

We hope you find them as compelling as we do.


Car-mageddon indeed!

The building, rebuilding, and repair of highways and bridges throughout the United States is heading toward a dramatic slowdown –perhaps even a complete halt– this summer. The Federal Highway Trust Fund, source of federal transportation funding for all the states, will run out of money in late August, and Congress has not figured out a way to save it.

To understand what this means --and why it is bad news for every American-- one needs to understand how we as a nation build and maintain the streets, roads, and bridges we depend on every day. Ours is a national system that carries the life blood we know as daily commerce, the moving of people and goods to homes, schools, work sites, and travel destinations.

Nowhere is it more important than in my home state, Kentucky, where motor-vehicle manufacturing, freight movement, agricultural exports, and tourism are pillars of our economy.

Auto manufacturing in Kentucky

Simply put, this immensely valuable system would not be possible without the support of the Federal Highway Administration and funding through the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

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For decades, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, has been preparing leaders for service in the Merchant Marine, our Armed Forces, and other transportation careers.

Several years ago, the Department of Transportation pledged to restore Kings Point as a jewel among America’s five service academies. And the academy's new training vessel, Kings Pointer --which we rechristened yesterday-- is one sign that--together--we are working together to make good on that pledge.

Of course, we did more than simply rename the former NASA vessel. It returns to us having undergone a $3.3 million retrofit that makes it a true state-of-the-art training vessel for the midshipmen of Kings Point.

Photo of Jan Helis as she smashes a champagne bottle against the prow of the T/V Kings Pointer
Jan Helis smashes a bottle of champagne against the prow of the newly rechristened T/V Kings Pointer

There are other signs that we're making good on that pledge, too. Because a lot has changed on the campus in a very short amount of time...

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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.

Photo of Secretary Fox and others at I-495 bridge near Wilmington, Delaware
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...

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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...

Rendering of the proposed Niagara Falls, N.Y., rail station

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