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Secretary Ray LaHood --Remarks as Prepared-- Associated General Contractors of America Annual Convention CONEXPO-CON/AGG Trade Show

Thank you for the introduction and welcome.  Congratulations, Kristine [Young], on your historic election as the AGC’s president.  I’m grateful for this opportunity to join the men and women who literally are building America’s future.  President Obama has made investment in America’s roads, bridges, transit systems, and rail network one of his top priorities.  But he and I both appreciate that you are the ones doing the heavy lifting.

I know that these last few years have not been easy.  When the president took office, our economy was shedding 750,000 jobs every month.  America lost 8 million jobs amidst the worst recession since the Great Depression.  You and your businesses bore the brunt of the storm.

At the same time, if you traveled our great country, you’d see roads and bridges that need repair.  You’d see airports and marine terminals that need expansion.  You’d see bus, streetcar, and light-rail lines that need building.

Frankly, you’d see an America that’s totally unprepared for the 100 million additional people who will call the United States home by 2050 – the equivalent of another California, Texas, New York, and Florida. You’d see arteries of commerce that already are clogged with paralyzing congestion – and which will only become more so if we settle for the status quo.

The AGC knows better than anyone: These aren’t Republican or Democratic problems.  They’re American problems.  They’re crises that Americans of every party are calling on us to address.

After all, there’s no such thing as a Democratic or Republican bridge – and there’s no such thing as a Democratic or Republican job fixing it.   If we want America to prosper in the 21st century, our citizens and companies need the safest, fastest, most efficient ways to move people and products from one place to another.  And, AGC, we need you out there building them.

The Recovery Act – the president’s immediate response to the economic crisis – was step one.  It helped tide you over during an extraordinarily difficult time.  It financed almost 15,000 transportation projects – in every state of the union.  And through these investments, it produced or protected millions of jobs.  These aren’t partisan figures; they’re objective facts.  So, thank you for everything you did to make the transportation portion of the Recovery Act such a success.

Of course, we have a lot more to do.  Millions of Americans still want and need work, but can’t find it. Nearly one in five construction workers are still unemployed at a time when so many of the roads and bridges we use every day have fallen into disrepair.

You’re here because you’d like for your business to pick up.  We get it: In order for that to happen, you need the confidence and predictability to plan, bid, hire, and build.

That’s why, just a few weeks ago, President Obama proposed a bold vision for the future of America’s transportation system and unveiled a robust six-year transportation bill.  It increases resources for highway and bridge improvements by 48 percent.  It increases funding for affordable, efficient, and sustainable bus, streetcar, and transit systems by126 percent.

It includes a $50 billion up-front boost to keep our recovery moving in the short term.  It includes a $30 billion national infrastructure bank that will finance major projects of national or regional significance over the long run.

It keeps us on track toward a high-speed intercity rail system with an $8 billion investment in 2012 –a $53 billion investment during the next six years.  And it will make these long-delayed and much-needed investments in the most cost-effective ways: with tax dollars that leverage private capital; through projects selected on the merit, not politics; and by hiring you to do the contracting and construction.

Still, as we get busy rebuilding America, safety must remain our number one priority.  So I want to talk with you this morning about another critical issue: digging-related accidents and tragedies.

During these last few years, we’ve seen a number of deadly pipeline disasters.  I’m not going to sugarcoat this: One major reason is that our nation’s contractors and excavators don’t always know exactly where our pipelines are located.

America’s energy transportation network is enormous.  It consists of more than 2.5 million miles of pipe, enough to circle the earth 100 times, and much of it was installed 50 or more years ago.

We at the Department of Transportation are redoubling our efforts on pipeline safety.  This is a cause I’ve personally taken on.  And President Obama’s budget proposes a 15 percent increase in funding that will help us add safety professionals dedicated to keeping you and your employees protected.

But we cannot afford to wait.  You and the people on your jobsites need to call “811” before you put a shovel in the ground.  It will prevent significant property damage.  It will save lives.

Next week, we kick off National Safe Digging Month.  It must be more than just a slogan.  It’s a call to action: A reminder of the responsibilities with which your customers have entrusted you – and with which the American people have entrusted all of us.

So, this is the DOT blueprint – and we’re counting on your continued leadership, partnership, and advocacy to make it a reality.  The good news is that we’re building on a remarkable legacy of shared accomplishment.

The last time I visited Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to help dedicate a new bridge that bypasses the narrow, two-lane road atop the Hoover Dam.  It was built, almost entirely, by members of the AGC and your employees.

The bridge is a wonder of 21st century engineering.  It’s the longest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.  It rests on the tallest precast concrete columns ever constructed.  Staring up at this monument to human ingenuity, almost 1,000 feet off the ground, you can’t help but feel proud to be an American.

The bridge creates a faster route between Phoenix and Las Vegas – a more efficient way to move people and goods.  It will help grow the economy in communities across the Southwest.  But the Hoover Dam bypass is also more than the cement and steel that ties Nevada to Arizona; it’s the symbol of a great nation that does big things.  It’s a testament to what we can build together.

Just think about what we’ve achieved.  In America’s first century, we carved the Erie Canal and connected the coasts with the transcontinental railroad.  In our second century, we built our interstate highways and the bridges, tunnels, and subways that are still the lifelines of our economy.   Each successive American generation has demonstrated the foresight and courage to invest in the most important projects of its time – the projects that make America the greatest country in the world; the projects that make America possible.  We owe our children and grandchildren no less.

So, members of the AGC, my message for you is this: Let’s build bridges together.  Help us build bridges between America’s last great transportation legislation and our next great transportation legislation.  Help us build bridges between the investments our parents and grandparents made for us – and the investments that we need to make for our kids and grandkids. 

This is America.  We don’t do small things.  We do big things.  We dream big.  We build big.  And, together, we can and will make this nation’s transportation system the envy of the world once again.

Thank you very much.

Friday, March 25, 2011