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Secretary Ray LaHood United States Conference of Mayors 2010 Fall Leadership Meeting The St. Regis Hotel, Washington, DC

Thank you, Mayor Kautz, for the wonderful introduction.  And thank you, all, for the warm welcome.  Mayor Reed and Mayor Villaraigosa, I’m looking forward to our discussion.  But I thought I’d start by sharing a little about my perspective from the nation’s capital. 

The fact is: This is no ordinary time.  When President Obama took the oath of office, the economy was shedding 750,000 jobs every month – 8 million jobs in total – amidst the worst recession since the Great Depression.  The impact was felt around every kitchen and city council table – in every home and every community. 

We also faced a number of infrastructure challenges left mostly unaddressed for decades.  Bridges deteriorated.  The daily commute grew longer, more congested, and more expensive.  Airport delays dragged on and on. 

Americans were calling for more affordable, more efficient, more sustainable options about how to get from one place to another – not instead of, but in addition to, our state-of-the-art highways.  They were asking for investment in sidewalks and bike paths; in transit, commuter, and light rail.  They were asking for policies that would bring affordable housing in closer proximity to good schools and quality jobs.  And they were asking for a high speed rail system that would revitalize their cities.

Now, I’ve been in politics for more than three decades.  But I’ll tell you: I’ve never seen an administration take on more problems, more effectively, than the one in which I’m honored to serve today.

Consider our work on transit.  We committed almost $300 million for major transit improvements as part of the Urban Circulator Grant Program and Bus and Bus Livability Grant Program.  We asked Congress for permission to regulate rail transit safety because the current system – with 28 separate state safety organizations – is ill-suited to manage 10 billion passengers on aging trains, tracks, and ties.  We repealed old policies that made cost-effectiveness the only measure that mattered in DOT’s evaluation of new starts applications.  And we imposed new criteria for awarding transit dollars that emphasize the quality of our lives outside our cars, not just the time we spend in them.

Through the Recovery Act, we’ve also put Americans back to work rebuilding our infrastructure – not only roadways, railways, and runways, but also more sustainable and livable communities.  Think about what we’re doing through this legislation alone: One -- Taking the needs of cyclists and pedestrians into account like never before – treating walking and riding as important elements of our nation’s transportation network.  Two -- Making an $8 billion down payment on high speed rail.  Three -- Supporting TIGER grants – that’s “Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery” – which fund innovative, multi-modal projects that achieve multiple objectives like safety, competiveness, livability, and environmental sustainability.
For the first time, these grants have allowed DOT to provide funding directly to the cities that implement these projects.

Because of all these efforts, we’re on track to hit 3.5 million Recovery Act jobs by the end of the year – more than 160,000 of which have already come from DOT managed programs.  After 22 straight months of job losses, we’ve seen our economy create private sector jobs for eight months in a row.  And each new job generates a powerful economic ripple effect – as contractors start buying new supplies and hiring new employees; as workers start spending more money and their families start shopping or going out to eat again; as small businesses start purchasing more inventory and hiring additional staff.

But, mayors, we’re just getting started!  Building on our momentum, the president announced, on Labor Day, his vision for the future of America’s infrastructure.  He committed to rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads – enough to circle the Earth six times.  He committed to laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of track – some for transit, some for freight, some for high speed rail – enough to stretch from coast to coast.  And he committed to restoring 150 miles of runways and putting in place a next generation air-traffic control system that will reduce travel time and delays.

All of this will come in the package of a six year plan that provides the financial certainty required to plan for and invest in multi-year projects.  And it will be coupled with establishment of a national infrastructure bank, which will finance investments that are regional or national in scope.  President Obama’s plan will bring jobs to our economy now.  It will be fully paid for – without running up the deficit.  And it will make a measurable and meaningful difference.

My DOT colleagues are working – as we speak – with the bipartisan leadership of Congress to iron out the details.  I hope you’ll join us in explaining to the public exactly why this matters.  It’s an investment in economic opportunity.  It’s an investment in economic competitiveness.  It’s an investment in America’s future.  I believe that, together, we’re laying the groundwork for progress – and getting America’s economy on the move once more.  Thank you for your partnership in that shared effort.

Thursday, September 23, 2010