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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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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...

Photo of Secretary Foxx at N.A.R.C. annual conference
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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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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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Improving safety and saving lives is at the heart of our mission at DOT. That's why we are committed to keeping tired truckers off the road--for their safety and the safety of others--through common sense rules backed by science, research, and data.

In 2012, thanks to our continued economic recovery and increased demand for freight shipping, there were nearly 10.7 million tractor-trailers and large trucks on the roads in the U.S., with the trucking industry experiencing unprecedented profitability this year.

But that demand has come with a price. Since 2009, we've seen an 18 percent increase in large truck crash fatalities. To put that in perspective, in one year alone, large trucks were involved in 317,000 traffic crashes resulting in an average of 75 deaths per week. That's 11 per day...

Photo collage of families torn apart by truck crashes

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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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Right now, on the Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Dutch-owned vessel Fortunagracht is making its way toward Antwerp, Belgium, laden with cargo for export from businesses throughout Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and other Midwest states.

The Fortunagracht is the linchpin of the new Cleveland-Europe Express service, a two-year agreement between the Port of Cleveland and the Spliethoff Group, the Netherlands' largest ship-owner. The agreement guarantees direct monthly service between Cleveland and Antwerp, providing Midwest manufacturers a better deal than sending their goods by truck or rail to an East Coast port for eventual shipment across the Atlantic.

Photo of Fortunagracht near Welland Canal

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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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