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I had the distinct honor this week of joining colleagues at the St. Lambert Lock in Montreal to celebrate the beginning of the St. Lawrence Seaway’s 59th navigation season.

Along with Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau, St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation President and CEO Terence Bowles and many others, I watched this season’s first ship, CSL St-Laurent, begin its journey into the Seaway System to pick up a load of grain. The movement of CSL St-Laurent and the hundreds of cargo vessels along the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System this year will support more than 227,000 jobs and $35 billion in economic activity.

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U.S. airlines set new records in 2016 for the number of passengers carried, for the distance they carried those passengers and for the capacity that the airlines used to move them, according to numbers released by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). It was the second consecutive year that the airlines set all-time highs.

In 2016, for the first year ever, U.S. airlines carried more than 800 million scheduled service passengers – reaching 823 million worldwide, 3.1 percent more than the 798 million they carried in 2015. Using the measure of revenue passenger-miles (RPMs), which includes both the number of passengers and the distance they travel, U.S. airline operations grew even more – with 933 billion RPMs, up 3.5 percent from 2015.

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For more than 300 years people have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with feasts, parades and festivals. The holiday is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival, and this weekend the tradition continues.

Unfortunately, with celebration sometimes comes excess and dangerous situations, particularly in this case drunk and buzzed driving. Drunk driving killed 10,265 people in 2015. During the St. Patrick’s Day holiday alone it claimed 30 lives.

To raise awareness about staying safe this holiday weekend, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration on Thursday hosted a Twitter chat to help celebrants stay safe.

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Today, the President sent his “America First" budget for FY 2018 to Congress. This is a strategic document that looks to the future, and is designed to send a clear message on deficit reduction.  For DOT, it addresses the department's discretionary programs, which make up about one-quarter of the Department’s total resources.  These proposed savings are largely geared towards future program investments, so they will not have an immediate direct impact on our DOT colleagues. This is just the beginning of the budget process, not the end.  We will see the more complete picture when OMB releases its final FY 2018 budget in May, and as the President’s infrastructure initiative takes shape.  In fact, OMB Director Mulvaney noted yesterday that the strategy behind the savings in the DOT budget is to move money out of existing, inefficient programs and hold these funds for more efficient programs that will be included in the infrastructure package under development. 

The budget announced today preserves the ongoing safety programs at the heart of our Department’s mission. In addition, it reaffirms the President’s strong commitment to modernizing our country’s outdated infrastructure with a strategic, targeted program of investments that will improve our economy, strengthen competitiveness and create jobs.  The program will encompass common-sense regulatory, administrative, organizational and policy changes that will speed project delivery.  More budgetary, tax and legislative details will be provided in the coming months. 

Today’s budget announcement is the start of national dialogue about our country’s priorities for the future and how best to manage the tax dollars we are given.  I look forward to working with the Department, Congress and the various stakeholders on the opportunities ahead.   

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According to legend, St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland. This St. Patrick’s Day, you can do an even greater service by helping the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration banish drunk driving from our roads.

Drunk driving killed 10,265 people in 2015. During the St. Patrick’s Day holiday alone—it claimed 30 lives. Every year, without fail, roughly one-third of deaths in motor vehicle crashes are due to someone making the selfish and often deadly choice to drink and drive. It happens despite the fact that it is illegal everywhere in America to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher—and that an arrest for drunk driving could cost you as much as $10,000 in attorney fees, court costs and other expenses.

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About every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train.

Last year, 232 people were fatally injured in rail crossing accidents.

Stop. Trains Can’t.

That’s the message of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) heightened two-year effort to reduce accidents and fatalities at railroad crossings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have partnered in this nationwide, month-long effort to encourage motorists, particularly young males, to use caution when approaching railroad crossings.

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Spring may be just one week away, but wintry road conditions are still a concern for many drivers. Vehicle maintenance is important all year long—especially during the dangerous winter months. NHTSA has prepared a list of winter driving tips to help you reach your final destination safely.

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On Feb. 15, we announced that Sea Year training for USMMA Midshipmen will resume on three commercial carriers; Crowley Maritime Corporation, Maersk Line Limited, and American President Line (APL). This followed implementation of comprehensive new requirements for commercial carriers to ensure that the Academy’s standards for behavior, leadership and integrity are upheld.  I’m now pleased to announce that last week another commercial carrier, TOTE Services, has also been certified under these strict new federal requirements to be “Sea Year Eligible.  The first Midshipmen have already begun their training aboard these commercial vessels, and MARAD is reviewing applications from five other companies that have applied to meet the new Sea Year requirements.

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 One of the safest choices drivers or passengers can make is to buckle up. In 2015, seat belt use in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 13,941 lives. Many Americans understand the lifesaving value of the seat belt – the national use rate is at 88.5 percent – but nearly 27.5 million still don’t buckle up.

 

Seat belts are the best defence against drunk drivers and they prevent nearly half of all fatal injuries. So please, for yourself and your family, take the time to buckle up every time.

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Get ready to spring forward on Sunday, March 11, at 2 a.m. as Daylight Saving Time begins. Along with checking your smoke detector batteries, make sure you take a moment and check for vehicle safety recalls. Adding this to your spring and fall safety routine keeps you and your family safe all year long. In fact, don’t stop there. Safety recalls can also affect child car seats and tires. You can check for recalls at NHTSA.gov/Recalls.

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