On Veterans Day, November 11th, we honor the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. They put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard our freedoms and protect our country.
America’s transportation systems and infrastructure are fundamental to our nation’s security, safety and quality of life. That is why the Department’s Crisis Management Center (CMC) monitors America’s transportation systems and infrastructure 24-hours a day, every day. And that’s why I visited the CMC on my first day as Secretary of Transportation.
The CMC’s around-the-clock vigilance was instituted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The men and women staffing the CMC are key to enabling the Department to develop and execute timely, coordinated responses to support life safety missions and to assist in the restoration of transportation infrastructure.
Safety is our #1 priority here at the U.S. Department of Transportation. We work on improving safety every day and approach it from every angle – including infrastructure design and funding, vehicle design and operating standards. Across all our modes we strive to address the leading cause of transportation injuries and fatalities: human error.
This week, NHTSA released the 2017 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data. The 1.8% decrease in fatalities compared to 2016 was welcome news. But 37,133 people died in 2017 in motor vehicle traffic crashes – most of which involved human error. This is tragic and unacceptable.
On September 17, I attended NHTSA’s Drug-Impaired Driving Public Meeting near Baltimore and listened to speakers, including the U.S. Attorney General and the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, outline the terrible menace of illegal drugs. And it is not just illegal drugs making America’s roads less safe, side effects related to over-the-counter medications and legalized marijuana are also causing drivers to make fatal mistakes. In my remarks, I relayed the Governors Highway Safety Association report findings that 44% of drivers killed in crashes in 2016 tested positive for illegal, prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Drug-impairment can have lethal consequences across all modes of transportation. It breaks your heart that these fatalities and injuries are so preventable.
September 23-29 was Rail Safety Week, a public awareness campaign that NHTSA, FRA, railroads and others launched to persuade people to be more careful at railroad grade crossings. Nearly 300 people a year are dying at railroad grade crossings – often because they don’t see a train coming or misjudged its distance, speed and ability to stop. Some drivers (and bicyclists and pedestrians) race trains to crossings or go around lowered gates. Again, better decisions could have prevented many of these tragedies.
Child Passenger Safety Week was September 23-29 to address the fact that, on average, two children under age 13 were killed every day in 2016 while riding in vehicles. Many of these tragedies could have been prevented by proper use of seat belts, car seats and boosters. NHTSA and its safety partners are working to save children’s lives and to save their families from a lifetime of grief. National Teen Driver Safety Week is October 17-25. Speed was a factor in 32% of teenage driver fatalities in 2016. Nearly 20% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking. Distracted driving can also result in fatalities or life-altering injuries. Research has found that dialing a phone number while driving increases a teen's risk of crashing by six times, and texting while driving increases the risk by 23 times.
That so many transportation fatalities and injuries are preventable motivates us at USDOT to be even more creative and persistent in our efforts to promote safer behavior. We hope that more Americans will heed, and help us spread, these safety messages.
Our country begins this week with a collective outpouring of concern and prayers for our fellow Americans who have suffered the wrath, or are still in the path, of Hurricane Florence.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Crisis Management Center has been working around the clock to support the efforts of state and local officials during the hurricane. I want to recognize the first responders in harm’s way as well as our DOT employees working in challenging and often dangerous conditions to help. I have been in contact with the governors in the affected states and have offered the full resources of DOT as they work to restore their transportation systems.
Seventeen years have passed since terrorists attacked our country on September 11, 2001. The horrific events of that day will never be forgotten. And the innocent people who perished, their families and loved ones live on in our thoughts and in our hearts. As we remember them, I would also like to pay special tribute to our DOT colleagues who played such a key role in safeguarding our country on that day and in the aftermath.
While it’s all part of history, it’s good to remind those who weren’t there of the extraordinary actions taken that day. To ensure that all terrorist-controlled aircraft, the historic order was given to shut down civil aviation in our country’s national airspace. For the first time in aviation history, air traffic controllers had to clear U.S. airspace of all commercial traffic. Thanks to their rapid and heroic response, within four hours U.S. airspace was emptied of all aircraft except military and essential medical traffic. For the record, that was approximately 4,500 aircraft safely landed in record time. In addition, all inbound international flights were diverted from U.S. airspace and U.S. airports. It was an unprecedented achievement, made possible by the skill, professionalism and dedication of our air traffic controllers and their FAA colleagues.
But that was just the beginning. The U.S. Coast Guard-- which was part of DOT at the time-- helped safely evacuate more than 350,000 people from Manhattan. And other transportation systems were impacted, as well. Those of us working in Washington, D.C. at the time remember that the 14th Street bridge, as well as the Metro and automobile traffic between Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia near Reagan National Airport, had to be shut down temporarily. So in the hours, days and months following the attacks, DOT modes were called upon to help to reopen roads, tunnels, bridges, harbors and railroads throughout the country, and much more. It’s not an exaggeration to say that DOT played a pivotal role in our country’s recovery from the attacks, which were meant not only to terrorize our citizens but to paralyze our economy.
Despite the passage of time, the heroic response of our DOT colleagues continues to inspire gratitude, confidence and respect to this day. So as we remember the heroes, the fallen, and the families of September 11, 2001, I hope you will also join me in saluting our DOT colleagues whose magnificent effort played a seminal role in our country’s recovery. I will be thinking of them, and remembering and giving thanks as I participate in a ceremony marking 9/11 at the Pentagon.
National Truck Driver Appreciation Week (September 9-15) is occurring this year just as Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the East Coast. Millions of people are going to be especially grateful in the coming days for the truck drivers who will be delivering food, fuel and other critical supplies. Many of the men and women driving these trucks will be braving adverse road and weather conditions to get their loads through to communities.
When a disaster causes store shelves to empty, gas pumps to shut off and electrical grids to shut down, America’s truck drivers bring in the supplies that save lives, provide comfort and allow people to rebuild. So we should all be even more appreciative than usual this week for their hard work and professionalism. And let’s wish these men and women safe travel and help them out by operating our own vehicles in a safer manner in proximity to large trucks.
80 percent of U.S. communities rely solely on trucks for the delivery of goods. Truck drivers delivered nearly 12 billion tons of freight in the U.S. in 2016 and contribute well over $700 billion annually to our economy. Life literally would not be the same – for anyone -- without America’s truck drivers.
At the Department of Transportation we are also focused on looking to the future of the trucking workforce. We are striving to remove unnecessary obstacles or regulatory barriers that prevent qualified individuals from gaining their CDL and earning a good living. On July 5, we announced a pilot programto permit 18-20 year olds who possess the U.S. military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate large trucks in interstate commerce. This program will allow veterans and reservists to translate their extensive training into good-paying jobs operating commercial vehicles safely across the country, while also addressing the nationwide driver shortage.
The Department of Transportation appreciates America’s truck drivers who are working hard and in a safe manner to perform the demanding and important work of hauling freight. Their efforts are critical to the U.S. economy and the quality of life of all our citizens.
It is back-to-school time in the U.S., which means 50 million more reasons drivers should concentrate on driving safely -- especially around schools, school buses, bus stops, crosswalks and bicycles. About 50 million students attend America’s public elementary and secondary schools. Over 35 million are in prekindergarten through 8th grade. Most have been on summer break and will be heading back to school in the coming weeks. Kids will be commuting to school on foot, by bicycle and by school bus or private vehicles.
Nearly 300 children were killed in school transportation-related crashes from 2007-2016. These are preventable deaths, lives cut tragically short. 98 of these children were pedestrians struck by a vehicle. School buses are the safest way for children to commute to and from school. Yet, nearly two-thirds of school-age pedestrians fatally-injured in school transportation-related crashes are struck when getting on or off a school bus – either by the bus (62%) or other vehicles (38%). So, all drivers have got to be extra careful in proximity to school buses and parents need to teach children how to safely board and exit a bus.
Parents should also impress upon their children that they should not jaywalk and should always look both ways (left-right-left) before crossing any street. And, of course, those children riding bicycles should wear a good bike helmet. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration website offers many more tips for parents to help their children travel safely to and from school.
Drivers should be especially vigilant during the morning and afternoon hours when children are commuting to and from school. From 2007-2010, 80% of school-age pedestrians killed were struck by vehicles between 6:00-8:00 a.m. and 2:00-5:00 p.m. 72% of the 174 children fatally injured while in school buses or other vehicles were killed during those same hours. Children can move quickly, and it’s more important than ever for drivers to be alert and able to react quickly and not be impaired by fatigue, medications or any other substances.
There is no phone call, text, e-mail or social media post more important than the safety of children. There is no destination more urgent than the safety of children. So, let’s all do a better job of looking out for one another, especially America’s youngsters, and always while driving.
Another section of Interstate 11 opened this month in Boulder City, Nevada, not far from Las Vegas. The Nevada Department of Transportation in partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada are to be commended for completing the construction of the first phase of I-11.
The Federal Highway Administration supported this outstanding project with nearly $400 million in federal funding.
It’s an exemplary project in supporting many of our goals, including enhanced safety, less congestion and more efficient movement of freight.
The project’s benefits at the local level include removing truck traffic from Boulder City while providing truck operators an alternate and more direct route around the city, but I-11 overall is a regionally significant project.
It marks the first step in connecting Las Vegas and Phoenix – the country’s two largest metropolitan communities not currently linked by an interstate highway. These are the only two cities in the nation with populations of more than one million people that are not connected by interstate.
Although there is more work is ahead before completing the link - Motorists commuting between Las Vegas and Arizona will get some congestion relief now that this first 15-mile portion of I-11 is open to traffic.
I-11 also supports one of the FHWA’s infrastructure goals by not only improving mobility and accessibility – but also stimulating economic growth, productivity and competitiveness. Travel and commerce between Arizona and Nevada will be easier and the region’s economic competitiveness will be enhanced.
A new stretch of Interstate 11 opens in Boulder City, Nevada
For decent people, it is unbelievable to learn that in this day and age something so horrible as slavery still exists. But that’s what “human trafficking” is and it is happening all over the world, including America. Human trafficking encompasses victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation coerced or deceived into jobs that they can’t leave. It is happening in rural and urban areas across our country. It could well be occurring in your own zip code. Of particular relevance to DOT, America’s roadways, railways, airways, and waterways are being used to facilitate this trafficking in human beings – adults and children.
At the Department of Transportation, initiatives are underway to increase awareness of human trafficking and equip transportation industry employees and the public with strategies to fight it. Every mode collaborates with the private sector and federal, state, and local transportation stakeholders through our Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking (TLAHT) initiative to engage industry leaders, train transportation industry employees, and provide public awareness materials. We train our 55,000 DOT employees, and work with Federal agencies and NGOs to ensure a suite of human trafficking awareness trainings tailored for the aviation, rail, motor coach, trucking and transit industries are available. Together, we are training flight attendants, truck drivers, train conductors, bus drivers, and other transportation employees to recognize and report human trafficking.
The Department of Transportation is ensuring that truck drivers using a commercial vehicle to commit human trafficking permanently lose their commercial license. We are also establishing a Federal advisory committee to identify and share best practices in combating this crime across the transportation industry. And on the international front, we have secured commitments from over 50 transportation ministries to continue working on this issue around the globe.
It is going to take a sustained, concerted effort to make headway against human trafficking. Transportation leaders: your help is needed, because all forms of transportation are being used to traffick people. Truck stops, sea ports, airports, bus terminals, rail stations, and other transportation hubs can help by training employees and displaying public service announcements. Public awareness is key to identifying and reporting human trafficking. Each tip may make the difference in saving someone's life.
Together, we can help put an end to the inhumanity of human trafficking.
Today, I joined Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Mike Lewis and other state and local officials in Denver for the groundbreaking of the I-70 reconstruction project or “Central 70,” as it’s referred to locally.
For anyone working, living in or visiting Denver, Central 70 is going to be a really, REALLY, big deal.
$1.2 billion big. That includes a $416 million loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, $114 million in Private Activity Bonds allocated by DOT, and $50 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds from the Federal Highway Administration.
It’s the biggest project CDOT has ever undertaken.
And it’s being delivered using CDOT’s biggest public-private partnership (P3) to date.
If all goes according to plan, the P3 -- Kiewit Meridiam Partners, CDOT’s High Performance Transportation Enterprise and the Colorado Bridge Enterprise – will bring several big benefits.
For starters, Colorado isn’t just rebuilding a section of I-70. It’s future-proofing road travel in Denver on the busiest route in the state, by adding intelligent transportation system infrastructure that will help accommodate autonomous vehicles in the years ahead.
The project will cut commute times for thousands of area drivers every day and add managed lanes in each direction along ten miles of I-70. That’ll bring a big sigh of relief for travelers anxious to get to Denver International Airport on time.
(U.S. Department of Transportation's Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Brandye Hendrickson participates in the groundbreaking ceremony for Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) Central 70 project.)