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Transportation Research Board Chairman’s Luncheon

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

Remarks at the 93rd Annual Transportation Research Board Chairman’s Luncheon
Washington, DC • January 15, 2014

INTRODUCTION & ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks Deborah [Butler] for the introduction – and thank you, everyone, for the warm, warm welcome.

In addition to being a father of two kids… and, after last Sunday, a very disappointed Carolina Panthers fan… I’m also thrilled to be your 17th Secretary of Transportation. And I’m thrilled to be here with so many infrastructure wonks, who – like me – care about the details of how we’re moving people and goods around this country.

That said, I’m not even the biggest policy wonk in my own family.

That title would go to my daughter, Hillary. She’s nine-years old.  And she has some very strong opinions about the state of American transportation.

In fact, she made a list.

First: Every seat on the plane should be in first class.

Second: Make airplane bathrooms bigger… and cleaner. (As you can see, she’s very interested in aviation policy.)

Third: The airlines should invent something that keeps your ears from popping.

All good ideas.

And they got me thinking:  If my daughter has already announced her transportation priorities, maybe I should do the same. 

That’s what I want to do today – I want to talk with you about my priorities as Secretary of Transportation.

THE INFRASTRUCTURE DEFICIT

Now, in  recent years, we've been a nation careening from crisis to crisis…keeping our foot on the brakes of economic growth… creating uncertainty… all over disagreements about a deficit…

It’s just not the deficit most people think of.

Because I’m not talking about our budget deficit, I’m talking about our infrastructure deficit.

In a room like this, you know the numbers.

A third of all major roads are in “poor or mediocre condition”… more than $86 billion in backlogged transit maintenance… 100,000 bridges old enough for Medicare.

There are more numbers: If you aggregated it, every year Americans spend roughly 600,000 years stuck in traffic.

And in the last decade, we’ve fallen 20 spots when it comes to the quality of our infrastructure according to the World Economic Forum.

That puts us behind Barbados – a country with one airport.

Now, while more than 8 million jobs have been created since the President took office, we still need to create more. And the fact is: fixing those roads and bridges and transit systems that I just mentioned could put people back to work.

Yet, for nearly a decade, we’ve been hesitant to do this.  It’s been ten years since we had a six-year surface reauthorization bill.  To the extent that we’ve been able to address funding, it has often been really short-term and, from the perspective of state and local governments – a group that I know pretty well – too unpredictable to make long-range plans or long-term investments. 

So they’ve waited. And as they’ve waited to repair those roads, and bridges, and transit and rail systems, the price tag on those projects has gotten bigger. Because what’s true in business is true in government: Time is money.

In fact, in Charlotte, we had a transit plan that looked out about 20 years, and when you totaled the cost of it, about a third of the price tag was inflation – or, I would call, the cost of waiting.

So, when we talk about our long term infrastructure deficit, let's understand that every day we fail to tackle it, we’re actually creating more expensive projects. And we’re kicking those higher costs to our kids and our grandkids.

FUNDING

All of this is why one of my priorities is to work on a bipartisan basis with Congress and to show them that our most fiscally responsible path forward is to create sustainable investments in infrastructure now. We need to pass a surface reauthorization bill, and we need to pass one for rail, too.

And the fact of the matter is, we don’t have much time. On October 1st of this year, the two-year MAP-21 bill is set to expire. And as for the Highway Trust Fund, you know it’s interesting: I’ve been reading some commentary – and people are asking, “What are we going to do about the Highway Trust Fund in FY ’15?”

Well, we need to be asking,“What are we going to do about it in FY ’14,” because in August the Highway Trust Fund could start bouncing checks.

As a result, starting today, we’re going to post on our website exactly how much money the Highway Trust Fund has left – and update that number every month until the fund runs out, or until it can sustain itself.

Now, this is a number we share with Congress. But the American people need to know it, too, because they are the ones who use America’s transportation system – and they are the ones who will travel slower and less safely if it isn’t funded.

On the other hand, I’m optimistic.

President Obama has put forth an idea that links infrastructure investment with corporate tax reform, and it’s a good idea because it could secure a source of funding for multiple years, something we haven’t had in quite a while.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Congressman Blumenauer is pushing forward a proposal for funding transportation. Chairman Camp is working on this issue. As are Senators Boxer and Baucus and Mikulski.

In fact, just yesterday Chairman Shuster of the House T&I Committee said he hopes to have a bill before the August recess.

So, there’s movement, signs of hope that Congress will act. And I want you to know that I’m going to do everything in my power to urge them to do so responsibly.

EFFICIENCY

Now, that’s not the only part of the story.

While funding is important, just being practical, we are not going to be able to spend our way out of this infrastructure deficit.  Even if we replenish the Highway Trust Fund – and maybe add a little more to it – we would still have an infrastructure deficit.

So, if we’re going to tackle our backlog of repairing and rebuilding, then there’s another part of the equation we have to tackle, too. And that’s cost.

Generally speaking, a set amount of funding equals a set amount of projects: one plus one equals two.

But what if we could make that funding equal more projects – and better ones?

What if we could make one plus one equal three – or four?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re doing at DOT.

Here’s an illustration: 

In Utah, when the I-15 needed extending, they used several innovations that DOT had pioneered as a part of our Every Day Counts program, including having  project-designers – the architects of the road, so to speak – and the builders work on-site together, which they hadn’t traditionally done before. Because they did that, they finished the project a full two years ahead of schedule, saving taxpayers $260 million on that project. And they plowed those savings into their project pipeline to fund three more highway projects.

Now, while stories like these don’t make the front page of the New York Times, this kind of efficiency is important because it creates more capacity.

Here’s another example. And I know that in your sessions you’ve all been talking about this: Warm-mix asphalt.

President Reagan had “Morning in America”… the President Obama had “Yes We Can”… I have “warm-mix asphalt.”

Now, we can laugh, but this new kind of asphalt doesn’t have to be heated as hot to pave roads. And while that may sound not that interesting, the savings are very interesting. By 2020, we’ll save $3.6 billion by using warm-mix asphalt: another example of how innovation will help us create more capacity.

And then there are rulemakings that we’re taking a look at.  

In the trucking industry, truckers have had to submit reports every time they do a job to basically confirm that their rig is in good condition. They had to report even if there was nothing to report, even if the rig was perfectly fine.

So we’re rethinking that, reducing the reporting requirement so that if the rig is fine, that report doesn’t have to be filed.  By changing this one rule, we’ll save the trucking industry $1.7 billion dollars every year.

Now, this is just the beginning.

According to a McKinsey & Company study that looked at global infrastructure – including the U.S., but it was larger than that – they found that countries can “obtain the same amount of infrastructure for 40 percent less” just by adopting best practices.

Granted, in many cases, the United States already uses many best practices. But, just for the sake of argument, let’s be conservative and say we’re only going to see half of that 40 percent savings. Let’s say it’s 20 percent. If you applied that savings to MAP-21, that would equal $21 billion, enough to pay for airport upgrades and the cost associated with NextGen.

That’s why we’re going to do even more to find efficiencies – implementing performance measures that reward projects completed under budget and ahead of schedule… and remaking our permitting process so that, in the vast majority of cases, it takes days or weeks instead of months and years.

And there’s one more thing about being more efficient… reducing cost… and increasing predictability in the system: When we do that we automatically create a better ecosystem for public-private partnerships in transportation.

And we’re going to do it.

A NATIONAL VISION FOR TRANSPORTATION

Third, I want to develop a national transportation plan, an integrated plan.

You know, when you’re in a city people move fluidly through all of the transportations systems we have. They move from a sidewalk to their car. They drive their car to catch a train. They take a train to catch a bus. And they take that bus to an airport where they can get on a plane. It’s all linked together.

But one of the challenges we have in transportation is that we, as a community, can be kind of fractured.

Highway people like highways… transit people like transit… rail people like rail…you could go on and on and on.  But our transportation system should be greater than the sum of its parts.

And if we’re going to build on the greatest transportation network the world has ever known, we’re going to have to all do this together– and figure out how all these pieces interrelate in their 21st-century incarnation.

And, to do so, we all have to use the facts to shape that integrated transportation plan – a plan for where this country is headed, not just where we’ve been.  

After all, that’s how people experience transportation on the ground: integrated, interconnected.

So we’re going to work towards a national plan on transportation.

Now, the good news is we’re not starting from scratch. Map-21 requires us to develop a National Freight Plan. And the work is already underway. We’re looking at the economy and how commerce moves around our country – and how that impacts what we do.

But we need to do more. We need a plan that takes our roads and rails and ports … and links them… and remakes our understanding of what transportation can mean in this new century.

So crafting a new plan is going to take some work.

But it will be worth it for all Americans. Because one of the places where a plan can help us is making sure that, no matter where someone lives – no matter whether they live in urban America or rural America – we are doing everything we can to connect them to the 21st century economy.                                                    

I happen to know what happens when we don’t.  

Growing up in Charlotte, I saw the impact of a highway loop that separated one part of the city from its central business district – and another highway project that divided a community in half, putting more stress on an already stressed community.

Transportation, perhaps in a previous era and in previous projects, may have had an impact in making it harder for people to grab a rung on the “ladder of opportunity.”

But we have an opportunity to change that – to help transportation create opportunity, bring people together, help us build great places all over America.  

So, in many ways, I don’t think transportation should help us just get places better. It should also help us make places better – and help improve the quality of life for people all across this country.  

SAFETY

Now, those are just some of things we want to work on. But I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about what is the absolute, essential, all-the-time priority at USDOT, which is safety. We want to build on our safety record.

You know, an awful lot has been done in this area over a long period of time. When I was a young person, there was a concentrated effort to reduce drunk driving. Secretary LaHood provided an incredible voice on distracted driving. We’re not going to lose a step on the foundation that we’ve built. We’re going to keep driving results in these areas.

And I would also add that this administration has done a whole lot to ensure that only safe, legal bus companies are kept on the road. And I want to applaud Anne Ferro for her work in that respect.

But it’s not just buses.

One huge opportunity for us as country is that we are now that largest energy producer in the world. And we need to make sure that we are also the world leader in safely transporting it. We have to assure the American people that natural gas can be liquefied and moved without incident… and that Bakken oil can move safely no matter how it’s transported.

Industry is part of that solution: After last month’s incident in North Dakota, I have summoned the petroleum and rail industries to Washington this week, and we’ll be talking exactly about this issue: How we can ensure that, as our energy production increases, we’re working together to safely transport crude oil by rail.

And by the way, we also have to make a special effort to look out for modes of transportation that, traditionally, don’t get much attention.

As a mayor, I saw an uptick in the number of joggers and walkers and bicyclists hurt on the road.

In fact, one morning, I was jogging into an intersection – and a car rolled over and hit me.

I got lucky. But there are lots of people out there who aren’t so lucky. And these kinds of injuries are trending upwards across the country.

So you can expect me to bring more attention to pedestrian and bicycle safety during my time as Secretary.

CONCLUSION

So, my daughter’s list was a lot shorter than mine.

But we’re going to keep working – working on bipartisan solutions to surface transportation that put us on a long-term sustainable path.

We’re going to keep delivering projects faster, which will also help restore public confidence that government can work for them.

We’re going to cut costs and lay the foundation for more public private partnerships at every level.

We’re going to develop a national transportation plan – lifting up the work of Secretary Coleman from the seventies… and Secretary Skinner… and Secretary Slater who’ve done this before.

We’ll keep building on our record of safety as an organization.

I want to leave you with one last thought, which is, as an industry, transportation folks tend to like to do stuff. All of you are doers:

Show me where you want the asphalt laid and I’ll do it.

Show me where you want the airport to be and I’ll build it.

Show me where we have to go and I’ll find a way to get us there.

You all are doers.

But one of the things our transportation community has to do more of is to make our case – make our case to stakeholders, and make our case to the American people.

Wherever you’re from, you’re from a community that has a to-do list – urgent needs. Let’s make sure that our leaders on Capitol Hill hear you. And let’s make sure that our neighbors – our friends who are stuck in traffic or who’re waiting for the plane that’s late – let’s reach out to them.

Because I promise you when the American people have a choice between a country that is building on the greatest transportation network the world has ever seen – or letting it whither – they’re going to pick “door number 1” every time.  Making that investment… improving quality of life… and taking some of that cost away from our kids and our grandkids.

Thank you very much.

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Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014