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Public Statements

Remarks at the 93rd Annual Transportation Research Board Chairman's Luncheon

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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 been 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 roads, and bridges, and transit projects, the price tag on those projects has gotten bigger. Because what's true in business is true for infrastructure: Time is money.

In fact, in Charlotte, we had a 20 year transit plan, and when you totaled the cost of it, about a third of the price tag was inflation -- or, I would say, 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 with Congress and to show them that our most fiscally responsible path forward is to fund infrastructure now. We need to pass a surface reauthorization bill, and we need to pass one for rail, too.

Because we don't have much time. On October 1st of this year, the two-year MAP-21 bill is set to expire. And the Highway Trust Fund will start bouncing checks as soon as August.

So, I want to announce something.

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.

I'm optimistic that it will be, though.

President Obama has put forward an idea to fund transportation with the proceeds from corporate tax reform, and it's a good idea because it could secure a source of funding for multiple years.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Congressman Blumenauer has 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 said he hopes to have a bill before the August recess.

So, there's movement. There are signs of hope that Congress will act -- and I'm going to do everything in my power to urge them to do so responsibly.

EFFICIENCY

Now, 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. And because they did, they finished the project a full two years ahead of schedule and saved taxpayers $260 million. That $260 million was then put back into the 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.

Get ready for the three most exciting words in any speech: Warm mix asphalt.

That's right: Reagan had "Morning in America"… the President has "Yes We Can"… but I've got "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 that may not sound impressive, but the savings it generates do: It will save us $3.6 billion by 2020.

Or look at our separate effort to cut down on the paperwork that truckers have to fill out as an example of streamlining. It used to be that, every day, truckers had to submit reports on the state of their rigs -- even if there was nothing to report, not a single defect. Believe it or not, 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 new study from McKinsey & Company, nations, generally-speaking, 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 the best practices McKinsey was talking about. So, for the sake of argument, let's be conservative and say we're only going to see half of that 40 percent savings. That's still huge savings. Twenty percent off the price tag of MAP-21 is $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… increasing predictability in the system: When we do that we automatically create a better ecosystem for public-private partnerships in transportation.

A NATIONAL VISION FOR TRANSPORTATION

The third priority I want to talk about is developing an integrated transportation plan. Because, right now, the way we think about transportation is fractured.

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

So, if we're going to build a better system, we're going to have to tell the story of what our nation can achieve -- of how we can maintain our place as the country with the most reliable, efficient transportation system in the world. And, to do so, we all have to use the facts and shape an integrated strategy for where we're headed, not just where we've been.

After all, that's how people experience transportation. It's all integrated. It's all interconnected. They don't only travel by car or train or ship or plane. They transition and transfer among all of them.

Now, we are already making progress on this front, developing a National Freight Plan that looks at all modes.

But we need to do more. We need a plan that takes our roads and rails and ports … and links them… and remakes the finest system of transportation the world has ever known into its 21st-century incarnation.

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 we're talking about, we are doing everything we can at the federal, state, and local level to make sure we're not dividing communities. We have to make sure we're bringing them together.

Because I know what happens if we don't.

You know, I grew up in a part of Charlotte that, in an earlier era, might have been referred to as the other side of the railroad tracks. And there's a reason we use that transportation parlance to talk about income inequality.

Because the two are connected.

Before I was born in Charlotte, a major highway loop was built and created an economic dividing line in my community.

My entire life, I lived 10 minutes from downtown -- and I could never get a pizza delivered. Which may sound like a trivial thing until you realize -- it probably meant no one in my neighborhood could get a job delivering one, or doing much else for that matter.

We shouldn't be dividing communities like that in America. Transportation shouldn't just get us places better -- it should make places better -- and lives, too.

No matter where someone lives, in rural or urban America, we have to be connecting all Americans -- and connecting them with better schools and better jobs. We have to build what the President calls, "ladders of opportunity." Including the opportunity to live a long, prosperous, happy, and healthy life.

SAFETY

Which brings me to our constant priority: Safety. And I want to build on our safety record at DOT.

Try as we might, accidents and tragedies continue to occur. And other than the families affected, no one feels the hurt of those tragedies as much as our team does at USDOT. And we feel an urgency to prevent them from happening again, too.

That said, though, I'm very proud that when you look at all the data, this is the safest time to travel in the history of traveling.

And as Secretary, I'm committed to keeping up that standard -- and to do it by making sure distracted and drunk drivers are kept off the road -- and that only safe, legal bus companies are kept on it.

But it's not just buses -- and it's not even just about transporting people.

America is now the world's leading energy producer, and we should be the world leader in safely transporting it, too. 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 about exactly this issue: How we can ensure that, as our energy production increases, we're working together to safely transport crude oil by rail.

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, I was jogging one morning, and I got hit by a car. And while I was lucky, too many people aren't. 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, building on our safety record… ensuring funding is predictable… improving the regulatory infrastructure that delivers our actual infrastructure… and setting a bold vision for transportation… these are the priorities I've discussed today.

And, if we're being honest, they're not entirely new. You've probably heard them before. This is a savvy group.

But in many ways, I mentioned them in the hopes that you take them and pass them along to a group that might find them new and surprising.

And that's the American people.

Because when people think of our work at DOT, they don't think of us leveraging money to attract private investment… or developing a bold, visionary plan… or doing more with less.

But that's what we do. That's the story of transportation in America. It's the story of innovation… of foresight… of efficiency and bold vision.
That's the story that, as Secretary, I will continue to write.

And I hope all of you will help me continue to tell it, too -- that you'll pass it along whenever and to whomever you can.

Thanks very much, everyone.


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