Last week, in his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about creating "ladders of opportunity," ways to connect all Americans, and especially those reaching for the middle class, with a better life.
Two of those "ladders" are being built right now in Florida. And on Friday, I traveled to the Sunshine State to visit them.
My first stop was in Fort Lauderdale, where construction is underway on "Phase Two" of the I-95 Express Lanes Project.
Think of this project as DayQuil for the Fort-Lauderdale-Miami corridor; it'll decongest the highway and lead to much faster commutes for people in the region who carpool or take transit buses. In other words, these lanes will protect the air kids breathe--and the time that their parents want to spend with them, too.
We're proud that more than 90 percent of the funding for this project --more than $100 million-- came from the federal level through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It's money that allowed Florida to break ground on these express lanes a full five years before they expected to.
But as proud as we are of the investment we made, we're prouder of how it's being spent.
At DOT, we have an initiative called "Every Day Counts" that pioneers creative and efficient methods to build infrastructure, including having the same contractors who designed the project build it as well. It's called "Design-Build." And, because the Florida DOT has been a leader in it for years, it helped dramatically speed up construction in Fort Lauderdale.
On Friday afternoon, I reached my second stop, Orlando, where I toured their soon-to-be-opened East-West Bus Rapid Transit line.
More than 80 percent of that project's funding --nearly $8 million-- came from the Federal Transit Administration's "New Starts" program. And when it's completed this spring, it will double the number of Orlando bus riders to 8,000 per day, giving the community a faster--and free--way of getting around the city, particularly downtown.
Over the past decade or so, Orlando's been hard at work developing its central business district, building everything from a new performing arts center to a major league soccer stadium. And this bus route will go a long way towards making sure all of the city's people can access them, opening up opportunities for new and better jobs.
When the President spoke about "ladders of opportunity" last Tuesday, projects like this were exactly what he meant.
And over the coming weeks and months, you can expect me to visit more of them -- just as you can expect USDOT to help construct more of them as well.