Secretary Ray LaHood
-- Remarks as Prepared --
White House Tribal Nations Conference
Department of Interior
Wednesday December 5, 2012
Hello everyone. It’s wonderful to be here with all of you.
Before I begin, I want to thank you all for your service and commitment to developing and improving tribal transportation facilities.
Since I took this job, we have made great progress on infrastructure development in Indian Country, but we couldn’t do any of it without your partnership.
As the Secretary of Transportation, I’ve traveled to every region in the country.
Everywhere I go, I talk about the economic and transformative power of transportation investments.
All of you know, transportation is not simply how we get from one point to another—it’s how we connect to opportunity.
That is especially true in Indian Country.
A rebuilt road or a new transit system can be the difference between a child going to school or not—or the difference between a tribal elder going to the doctor or not.
And no one knows better than Tribal leaders that transportation is the key to accessing jobs.
President Obama and this Administration are committed to partnering with tribal leaders to build the roads, bridges, and transit systems that connect tribal communities to the services you need—and like all of you, we’re committed to improving safety as we invest in those systems.
Today I’m proud to share with you that we will announce a number of grants that will do exactly that tomorrow.
Through the Federal Transit Administration’s Tribal Transit program, we are providing $15.5 million for 72 tribes to improve transit options in their communities.
Each of these projects will help maintain or expand transit access, while improving transit safety in communities throughout Indian Country.
For example, these grants will fund continued bus service for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and a new dial-a-ride transit system for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in Southern California.
But our work doesn’t end there. Across the country, we’re working to reduce fatalities and injuries on the nation’s highways.
We’re seeing success, but we know we have more work to do, especially when it comes to Indian Country.
Speeds are higher, roads are less forgiving, and visibility is lower at night.
Likewise, impaired driving in rural areas is higher because many people perceive a lower risk of arrest.
And when you look at seat belt use among American Indians and Alaska Natives specifically, you see a dramatic decrease in seat belt use.
While seat belt use is at 86% nationwide, that number falls to 68.5% for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
And about 75% of American Indian passenger vehicle occupants killed last year were unrestrained at the time of the crash, compared to 55% nationally.
These deaths are preventable, and we are working to help Tribal leaders to address these and other safety issues in their communities.
This summer, President Obama signed into law a new transportation bill known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st century, or MAP-21 for short.
This law is a real win for tribal communities and it’s a win for safety.
Through the new Tribal Transportation Program, MAP-21 continues highway funding at $450 million for tribes for each of the next two years.
This includes $9 million specifically set-aside for Tribes to address safety projects and activities throughout Indian Country.
In the coming months, we’ll provide guidance for how you can develop your own safety plan.
I encourage each and every tribal leader here to work with us to create a safety plan for your community.
MAP-21 also provides $60 million for transit on tribal lands over the next two years.
And all of this funding is provided directly to tribes, which means you don’t have to compete with States to fund the most pressing needs of your community.
Over the last four years, we’ve worked very hard to build better roads and bridges on tribal lands. Through the Recovery Act, we provided $310 million for over 500 projects.
And through the Federal Highways Administration, we provided nearly $1.5 billion to tribes for roads and bridges.
We also convened two national tribal safety summits and 15 statewide tribal safety summits.
At each of these events, we brought together tribal, local and state agencies to identify safety challenges and come up with solutions.
As we look to the future, we’ll take our cues from you.
We’ll continue to work with tribal leadership to invest in the infrastructure that will best serve your communities.
And we’ll continue to build a brighter future for Indian Country.