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Secretary Ray LaHood Remarks as Prepared CMC3 2011 Jump Start Conference: Defining Success in Transportation

Thank you, Jack, for the introduction.  To Tommy Hodges, former chair of the American Trucking Associations; Chairman Russell Garrett and the distinguished SMC3 board; and all the shippers, carriers, logistics experts, and technology developers who keep America’s economy moving: Thank you for the warm welcome – and the opportunity to visit Atlanta.

This is my fourth trip to Georgia since taking office.  I’ve always loved coming to town.  But never more so than today.

82 years ago -- at noon on a Tuesday like this one -- Martin Luther King, Jr., was born less than nine miles from here.  During the four decades that followed, this city became inseparable from his life’s work and legacy.

Dr. King was ordained at the Ebenezer Baptist Church here.  He attended and graduated from Morehouse College here.  He moved here to become co-pastor with his father in 1960.  And he raised his family here.  So, as we celebrate this 25th annual observance of Dr. King’s national holiday, I’m honored to spend a little time in his hometown.

And as we honor Dr. King’s enduring significance, I’m reminded of one of his most prescient statements:  “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality -- tied in a single garment of destiny.”

This has never been truer than it is in today’s interdependent world -- and you, in no small measure, are responsible for that fact.

Your trucks don’t just carry the products of agriculture and industry.  Your software doesn’t just identify the most efficient way of moving goods from one place to another.  You keep our country connected.  You’re links in Dr. King’s “network of mutuality.”  You’re threads in Dr. King’s “garment of destiny.”

It goes without saying, then, that keeping your industry strong is among the Obama Administration and Department of Transportation’s highest priorities.  That’s why President Obama has provided a bold vision for the future of America’s infrastructure.  That’s why the dedicated safety professionals at DOT are working to keep trucking in America safe – including with several new regulatory actions.  And that’s why we’re fulfilling our obligations, under NAFTA, to keep trade flowing with our neighbor to the south  – part of President Obama’s commitment to doubling American exports in the next five years – while maintaining the highest possible standards for safety.

Now, I’m looking forward to your questions – and hoping we can engage in a little back-and-forth.  But let me briefly address each of these three issues one at a time.

First – Shipping and logistics comprise a major part of President Obama’s plan for a robust six-year reauthorization of America’s transportation bill.  This legislation will include a $50 billion upfront investment to help employ the nearly one in five construction workers that are still out of a job at a time when so many of the roads and bridges you use every day have fallen into disrepair.

It will include support for a national high speed rail network. I appreciate that most of you here don’t consider yourselves to be in the business of moving people.  But investments in tracks and train sets don’t just give passengers more travel options; they improve existing rail infrastructure for freight cars and ease congestion for trucks.

And President Obama’s transportation bill will include support for a National Infrastructure Bank, which will leverage private investment dollars and finance transportation innovations that are regional or national in scope.  That means more projects to help you serve your clients and customers.

Obviously, with changes in Washington and increasing concern about deficits, we face a few hurdles.  But, in the past, transportation policy was one area where members of both parties joined together in the common good.  I’ve met with Speaker Boehner and Transportation Chairman Mica – and I’m optimistic that we will work together in the months ahead and get legislation to President Obama’s desk by the August recess.

Now, as for the regulatory environment, we at DOT have several important safety initiatives in the pipeline.

One – Just before the new year, we proposed a rule that would prohibit interstate commercial truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.  This builds on our existing ban on texting behind the wheel in commercial trucks and buses. Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic – and we believe this action will go a long way toward keeping a driver’s full attention focused on the road.

Two – We’re also working on revised hours-of-service requirements to give fatigued drivers both the opportunity and the right to rest.

And three – We will soon propose a rule that will require most commercial trucking companies to install electronic on-board recorders in their fleet's vehicles.    We welcome your counsel and comments on each of these potential actions.

We also welcome your guidance on one final – and very complicated – issue: Cross-border trucking.  I know that a number of you have more than a passing interest in this issue.  And I suspect that some of you have shared your specific concerns with the administration during the last 18 months.

Here’s where things stand: President Obama made a commitment to fulfill our obligations under NAFTA – and this is part of it.  We need to ensure that Mexican trucks on American roadways are held to rigorous safety standards – just as American trucks are.  We also need to address retaliatory tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. products.  They’ve hit 99 major exports like apples, grapes, pears, potatoes, Christmas trees, and pork products.  And they’re costing jobs.

So, a couple weeks ago, we released a concept document that will serve as a starting-point for negotiations with Mexico.  It incorporates safety suggestions from members of Congress, the trucking industry, labor, and safety advocates.  We intend to get these negotiations underway as soon as possible.  Ultimately, we will put forward a proposal for your consideration and comment.

This, of course, also points to something larger.  Dr. King once observed that our way of life “begins to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  Investments in America’s roads, bridges, and railroads matter.  The jobs that follow those investments matter.  Safe highways, drivers, and vehicles matter.  The commercial ties that bind us to our neighbors matter.  So, please don’t be silent.  Please let your voice be heard.  And let’s work together to build a better road forward for America.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011