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Merchant mariner numbers may be at a low in the U.S., but the men and women of the Ready Reserve Force (RRF) have increased their operating days by 245% from Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 to FY 2017.

This year’s missions have included some of the largest ammunition movements since the Vietnam War – which the RRF crane ships are exceptionally cut out for; unit resupply to various theaters around the world, and movement of rotating forces including supporting the Canadian military. The Aviation Maintenance Ship SS Wright even received flight deck certification for the MV-22 Osprey aircraft – further increasing its capability and capacity to support the Department of Defense. 

To sum up – in fiscal Year 2017 there were about 345 operating days (days away from layberth) for RRF vessels on cargo missions, exercises, and FEMA mission assignments.  In 2016 there were around 100 operating days for RRF vessels on missions and exercises. 2018 is on track to match, if not surpass, 2017.

From 2002 to June of 2008, 118 ship activations were called for in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM. In that period, there were 13,575 ship operating days with a reliability rate of 99.0%. Almost 25% of the initial equipment needed to support the U.S. Armed Forces operations in Iraq was moved by the RRF. By comparison, Military Sealift Command’s combined sealift fleet of Large, Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off (RO/RO) and Fast Sealift Ships carried 29% of the cargo required for the invasion.        

The RRF provides significant cost savings to the Department of Defense by maintaining shipping capacity in a reduced operating status until needed. These vessels also provide maximum flexibility to an already thinly-stretched Navy. In 2014, the RRF vessel Cape Ray was converted into a floating Incinerator for the safe destruction of the most dangerous chemical warfare materials in Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal. The historic mission supported the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in neutralizing almost 600 tons of declared chemical weapons, and that same vessel is still active today, carrying military cargo and supporting a U.S. Army Logistics-Over-the-Shore (LOTS) exercise overseas.

Ready Reserve Force Vessel Cape Ray

Ready Reserve Force Vessel Cape Ray on the historic mission that supported the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to neutralize chemical weapons.

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Transit employees working on various projects

As part of an Administration-wide effort to speed investments in transportation infrastructure and reduce potentially duplicative or unnecessarily burdensome requirements, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) changed its reporting requirements and streamlined its oversight process for transit agencies. FTA announced those streamlining changes as part of the recent Federal Register Notice on fiscal year 2018 apportionments.

Over the last year, FTA staff reviewed regulations and guidance documents to ensure they are straightforward, clear and designed to minimize burden on grant applicants. In a continued effort to review its processes, FTA is hosting an online dialogue to collect public input on the current definition of a “federal project” and how that may impact the timely and effective implementation of transit projects. A federal project typically requires grant applicants to complete many phases or elements for capital projects with requirements ranging from those enacted under the National Environmental Policy Act to regulations for Metropolitan and Statewide Transportation Planning, Procurement and Buy America.

In the “What is a Federal Project?” online dialogue, FTA seeks input from state departments of transportation, transit agencies, transit operators and other interested parties on how a federal definition affects project delivery. The dialogue also solicits ideas to improve the process of deciding when a project or project element is subject to federal requirements and whether those requirements should apply to phases that are not supported with federal funds. The online dialogue will be open from July 16 to August 17.

As a part of its recent review of regulations, FTA considered input from stakeholders via comments to a U.S. DOT docket regarding regulatory review.  

As part of its streamlining activities, FTA reduced the frequency that grant recipients are required to submit reports.  Under the new policy, grants of $2 million or less in urbanized areas over 200,000 in population should be reported annually rather than quarterly unless a specific risk is identified. That will reduce approximately 13,000 reports per year.

FTA also increased the threshold for property appraisals associated with transit projects, from $500,000 to $1 million, which will reduce submissions by 20 percent and save about 50 weeks of agency review time.

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With over 222 million licensed drivers in the United States – nearly double the 112 million licensed drivers in 1970 – adherence to traffic safety laws is more important than ever.  Also vital are local, state and federal safety campaigns such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) “Share the Roads” initiative to increase driver awareness of other road users, such as pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. 

The advent of social media enables everyone with a concern for road safety to amplify their concerns to fellow drivers.  One of the more remarkable examples of such safety advocacy is a YouTube video created by and starring an Indiana State Trooper, Sargent John Perrine.  Sargent Perrine created the video to encourage drivers to deploy one of the most fundamental, and underused, safety devices on cars:  the turn signal.  Sargent Perrine’s video has been viewed over 15 million times.

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I was honored to be present in South Philadelphia on June 30 to witness the christening of the largest container ship ever built in the United States. It was built by Philly Shipyards for shipping company, Matson, Inc., and was named for the former Hawaii senator, war hero, and long-standing maritime champion Daniel K. Inouye.

At a time when the U.S. maritime industry is fighting to keep its place among international competitors, this event was a momentous occasion. Built for the Hawaii trade, the Inouye represents the blending of the most advanced technologies with proven American shipbuilding skills and was constructed, fittingly, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia has a 300-year legacy as a major center of maritime industrial commerce and serves as a vital economic engine for the entire region, including South Jersey, which is where I hail from.

Once merely an early colonial port settlement, Philadelphia was transformed by the maritime industry into one of the nation’s largest cities boasting a formidable complex of shipping companies, terminals, port facilities, and private and public shipyards.  In that founding generation, “American-built” and “American-crewed” ships meant freedom, independence, and economic and military successes for a young nation. That meaning has not changed to this day.

Christening of the Inouye Containership

On Saturday, nearly fourteen months later, the 850-foot long, 3,600 TEU* Aloha Class vessel (the largest container ship ever built in the United States) was christened the Daniel K. Inouye. Senator Inouye received the Medal of Honor in World War II and in 1962 was elected to the United States Senate, where for 50 years he advocated for the American maritime industry.

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Historians agree that roads were one of the first human innovations that led to a “civilized” world. Communities emerged at crossroads where paths and trails intersected. In time, those routes became wider and better maintained to ensure uninterrupted commerce and travel. Centuries ago, the ancient Romans positioned stones at key points along these early roads, offering travelers navigational assistance. These stones were early mile markers – milestones, in the most literal sense of the word – to inform travelers of their progress.

Those early travelers might enjoy knowing that, even in the 21st century, people continue to rely on milestones. For example, today is the 62nd anniversary of the Federal-Aid Highway Act – signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower – which gave the United States a national network of interstate highways. Nearly 222 million drivers depend on this road system every day, traveling more than 3 trillion miles each year. It is an incredible feat of engineering and continues to serve the American people by keeping them safe and our economy strong.

This month also marks the eighth anniversary of FHWA’s “Every Day Counts” initiative, which represents a milestone in innovation. For nearly a decade, it has inspired state and local governments to adopt cutting-edge technologies and practices – from warm-mix asphalt to drones – in their ongoing quest to save lives, shorten project delivery, improve overall quality and minimize cost to the taxpayer. Since the program’s inception, each state has used 14 or more of the 43 EDC innovations, and some states have adopted more than 30. EDC has become quite the on-ramp to innovation, and we are very proud of its successes. This year is no exception. After receiving 160 suggestions and comments for the fifth round of EDC, we identified 10 truly exceptional innovations that will help drivers, workers and taxpayers alike. From project bundling to crowdsourcing to advanced computer modeling, I encourage you to check it out at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_5/.

FHWA’s academic research journal “Public Roads” will hit a major milestone when it turns 100 years old next month. This magazine has spent a century quietly enriching the scientific community on nearly every transportation topic possible, from the advent of cars to robotic bridge inspectors and nanotechnology. We look forward to shining the spotlight on one of the U.S. government's most important but least-known publications. A litany of safety improvements and innovations that have taken Americans from the horse and buggy to driverless cars have all been chronicled in this one amazing magazine for 100 years.

Milestones like these are no different than their ancient Roman counterparts: they help us see how much progress we have made, and ensure that we are heading in the right direction.  I hope you’ll join me in wishing a happy birthday to the U.S. interstate system, to EDC and to Public Roads. For everyone at the FHWA, this is a summer of milestones.

 Kansas City-area highway project was one of many milestones for the nation’s interstate system

This Kansas City-area highway project was one of many milestones for the nation’s interstate system, which was born June 29, 1956.

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If you are a transportation practitioner working for a local or tribal government and want to improve your construction, maintenance, and material selection processes and projects, FHWA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials have some fantastic news. Earlier this month, FHWA and AASHTO finalized an agreement that will provide local and tribal transportation professionals with free access to the AASHTO TC3 library.

AASHTO TC3 provides over 120 courses and some of the best online training available anywhere. AASHTO’s goal with TC3 is to create and maintain a fully optimized curriculum to respond to the changing needs of the transportation technical workforce. Courses provided by TC3 are developed through a collaboration of national best practices and a network of knowledgeable subject matter experts.  

In providing financial support in order to give tribal and local government employees the ability to access AASHTO’s TC3 library, FHWA is advancing the mission of its Center for Local Aid Support (CLAS): providing training and technical assistance to local government and tribal transportation practitioners across the United States.

To browse and access TC3 course offerings, go to https://tc3.transportation.org/.  To learn more about CLAS, a part of FHWA’s Office of Innovative Program Delivery, go to https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovativeprograms/centers/local_aid/.

AASHTO TC3 webpage layout

(AASHTO TC3 training course home page)

Continue Reading FHWA and AASHTO Team Up to ››
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The Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Council (COMSTAC) is meeting today at DOT.  There will be much to discuss, as the space launch industry has matured into a viable and profitable industry.

Last year, America recaptured global leadership with a banner number of launches.  This was a big change.  Just six years ago, in 2012, the United States was only third, behind both Russia and China.   Now, our space industry is not only number one, it is on track to set a new record for launches in 2018.

Being number one in space launches is not just a matter of national pride.  A recent study estimated that the 2017 launch market was worth almost $9 billion, and will triple in 7 years to more than $27 billion.

Space technology has the potential to transform the economy by enabling worldwide high-bandwidth communication services, near real-time Earth imaging, and hypersonic technology that can shuttle people into orbit or across the globe.  Lower cost space launch capabilities may even make it possible to harvest precious metals from asteroids.  The rocket launch industry will not only create good jobs – it will drive future innovation, just as it always has.

Falcon Heavy Rocket

(Falcon Heavy Boosters on Launch Pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.)

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This Memorial Day, I will be participating in a wreath-laying ceremony on board the decorated aircraft carrier, the Intrepid.  It earned its stripes in World War II, serving in the Pacific theater.  The ship’s toughest fights were in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  It also served in the Vietnam War.  The Intrepid played a role in the early space program, too, as a recovery ship for the Mercury and Gemini programs.  Today the aircraft carrier sits in New York Harbor as the centerpiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

Continue Reading Please Remember America’s ››
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Each year, on May 22nd, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day.

Now in its 85th year, the U.S. National Maritime Day’s focal point is our people. In 1933, Congress declared May 22nd as National Maritime Day, to recognize the first successful transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion, which took place in 1819. Without mariners, the event would never have happened.

Maritime Day is a time-honored tradition that recognizes one of America’s most important industries. Ceremonies and celebrations throughout the country will recognize Maritime Day and the people our nation, surrounded by oceans, relies on. National Maritime Day is a day to pay special tribute to merchant mariners and to the benefits that the maritime industry provides to this country and to all who live here.

It was the merchant marine and American shipyards that were vital to victory in World War II. Of the over 250,000 members of the American Merchant Marine who served their country, more than 6,000 gave their lives. Hundreds more were detained as prisoners of war, and over 730 U.S. merchant ships were sunk or damaged.

Then, as now, the United States Armed Forces could not fight a war overseas without the merchant marine and commercial ships to carry the equipment, the ammunition, and the other supplies our men and women serving in uniform need.

The United States has always been a great maritime nation. From our origins as 13 British colonies, and through every period of peace and conflict since, the merchant marine has been a pillar of this country’s foundation of prosperity and security. The men and women of the merchant marine power the world’s largest economy and strengthen our ties with trading partners across the globe, all while supporting our military by shipping troops and supplies wherever they are needed.

Here in Washington, D.C. at the Department of Transportation’s headquarters, the Maritime Administration is sponsoring an observance of Maritime Day, a solemn ceremony honoring veterans of the merchant marine and those who gave their lives in service to the United States. That observance has been held every year since 1970, and I am proud to uphold tradition and honor the merchant marine in our ceremony today.

Merchant Mariner and WWII veteran, William E. Tiernan (center) is presented with several awards by USTRANSCOM Commander, General Darren McDew (left) and Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby (right).

Merchant Mariner and WWII veteran, William E. Tiernan (center) is presented with several awards by USTRANSCOM Commander, General Darren McDew (left) and Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby (right).

Continue Reading National Maritime Day 2018 ››
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All of us at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are proud to partner with state, local and tribal governments to encourage the use of state-of-the-art transportation innovations under FHWA’s “Every Day Counts” (EDC) initiative. We call EDC the “on-ramp to innovation,” and with good reason. We’re always looking for newer, better ways to keep Americans safe while they drive and save time in project delivery as well as taxpayers’ money.

Missouri – also known as the “Show Me State” – has spent the last decade becoming the nation’s leading champion of Diverging Diamond Interchanges (DDIs). Throughout my career, I have seen few safety improvements as effective as DDIs.

DDIs are great because they eliminate the need for expensive left- or double-left turn bays by allowing left-turning vehicles on the crossroad to make a free turn left directly onto the onramp. In short, they keep drivers safe by reducing the number of intersections or other places where collisions can occur.

MoDOT created the first DDI in 2009 on I-44 in Springfield, Mo. Within a year, it reduced injury-only crashes by 80 percent and all crashes by 53 percent. In the decade since, MoDOT has created 19 more DDIs. The latest addition to its “diamond” collection, at I-49 and 155th Street in Grandview, is an especially good example of better transportation because it uses a roundabout (another EDC innovation supported by FHWA) at one of the ramp terminals instead of a traffic signal. Mixing these two proven safety measures has led some to start calling the combination a “divergeabout.”

During this year’s Infrastructure Week, FHWA is underscoring the importance of innovation and the workers responsible for building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure. Kudos to workers in Missouri and across the country who are helping to build roads and bridges. Pleaseshow these hard-working men and women your thanks by driving safely when traveling through highway work zones.

Continue Reading "Show Me" State ››
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