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Secretary Ray LaHood -- Remarks as Prepared -- North American Marine Highways and Logistics Conference

Good morning.  Thank you, David, for the introduction – and for your outstanding leadership of the Maritime Administration.  Thank you, all, for the warm welcome.  I’m grateful for this opportunity to join you – almost exactly a year after we formally launched America’s marine highways program.  But before I take your questions, I’d like to talk for a moment about what we’ve accomplished since we last came together some 363 days ago.

Now, you probably know the highlights: We designated 18 marine highway corridors.  These are essential arteries of commerce that will support economic growth and create jobs in communities across the country.  We put checks in the mail for our TIGER grants – that’s Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery. Fully half of them went to freight projects – and $215 million of them went to marine highway and ports projects. And we continue traveling America listening to you, learning from you, and finding ways that we can work together.

But all of this also reflects something more fundamental: America’s maritime transportation system is a major priority for President Obama’s administration.

For one thing, it’s a priority because as oil and gas prices rise, marine highways can be the most fuel-efficient, cost-effective way to haul goods from one place to another.  Last week, President Obama set the goal of cutting America’s oil imports by one-third.  And he proposed that we meet this objective, in part, by reducing our transportation system’s enormous demand for petroleum.  Right now, our transportation sector accounts for 70 percent of our oil consumption.

Marine highways are one crucial ingredient in the recipe for energy efficiency and energy independence.  They’ll help us send fewer of our hard-earned dollars overseas in a tough fiscal time.  They’ll decrease our emission of the carbon pollution that threatens our environment.  They’ll spur economic development and support economic expansion.

In fact, the benefits of maritime freight shipping are hard to ignore.  As our roadways and railways become more congested, marine highways can help ease traffic in regions like ours – which will be welcome relief during the daily commute.  If we expand our ports and make their connections to the rest of our transportation system more efficient,    it will be easier to double American exports within five years, as President Obama has committed to doing.

America’s long-term economic competitiveness hangs in the balance.  The population of the United States is expected to grow by 100 million people in the next four decades.  That’s like adding another California, New York, Texas, and Florida, combined. So, if we want America’s next generation of big dreamers and big doers to thrive, then we have no choice but to make big investments in the multi-modal transportation system that makes our livelihoods possible.

That means we have to look at our transportation system as a whole, not as separate parts.  We have to plan, prioritize, and build marine highways in concert with our roadways, railways, airports, and sea ports – as part of a seamlessly integrated network.

And that’s why I’m pleased to announce that today I’ve sent America’s marine highway plan to Congress.  It details how marine highways fit within our larger system for moving goods.  It reflects the best ideas of the maritime industry as a whole.  It draws on conversation and consultation with you and many of your counterparts.  It’s a roadmap to the future.

So, while you’ve earned congratulations for a job well done, we all know that this is just the beginning.  And I have two reasons to be confident that we’ll keep moving boldly forward.  First, because all of you will keep pushing, advocating, and holding our feet to the fire.  Second, because we must.

The United States has always been a maritime nation.  We were founded as a scattering of colonial ports.  Our rivers, canals, and inland waterways transformed our country into a global economic powerhouse.  Even today, more than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of an ocean. 

Although many Americans don’t know how the goods that they manufacture, ship, and buy make their way from point A to point B, our economic vitality and competitiveness are more connected with maritime transportation today than ever before.  President Obama gets it.  I get it.  And our policies at the Department of Transportation reflect it.

So my message for you is simple: When we finish America’s fully-integrated, national marine highway system, our legacy will be more than routes on water.  It will be a country less dependent on foreign oil.  It will be a 21st century means of moving people and goods. It will be a future that America is prepared to win.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011