I had the pleasure of returning home to Charlotte, North Carolina, this week for a Southeast Rail Forum hosted by the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) International and the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Rail Division. While there, however, I had to deliver a tough message – a necessary message – about the reality of transportation in the fast-growing region.
A wave of population growth is going to hit the Southeast – we can expect another 13 million people and a significant increase in the movement of freight by 2045. This means that local and State leaders must move quickly to develop a comprehensive blueprint for the Region’s rail network and establish a Southeast Rail Commission to advance it or risk being stuck in traffic for a very long time. While progress over the years has been steady, we are still inching along instead of sprinting. We cannot afford to wait another generation to get to the finish line.
Summary: Yesterday, DOT announced that $2 billion in unspent earmarks can be freed up for states to use for new investments in infrastructure. This is an important milestone in ending the use of earmarks and investing in U.S. infrastructure – but more remains to be done.
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that roughly $2 billion can be freed up for states to use for rebuilding our nation’s transportation system. All of this funding was previously unspent “earmarks” that were more than a decade old, so yesterday’s action takes potentially wasteful pork barrel spending stuffed into transportation bills by Congress and puts it to good use. Instead of sitting idle, these funds will now be available to help improve our infrastructure, keep drivers safe, and provide opportunities for communities nationwide.
These steps build on actions that began in the earliest days of the Obama Administration, when the President worked together with Congress to change the way that business is done in Washington - by increasing transparency and accountability for the way that taxpayer dollars are spent, including helping end transportation earmarks. Today, those efforts are yielding real results. Clearing out this legacy backlog of earmarks frees up stranded dollars to repave roads, fix bridges, or build new interchanges, which will create jobs and lay the foundations for long-term economic growth. Yesterday's action also builds on a similar action taken in August 2012, when USDOT made over $470 million in unspent earmarks immediately available to states for projects that create jobs and help improve transportation across the country.
U.S. ports and our marine transportation system – and the hardworking men and women behind these operations – are essential drivers of the American economy. Every day, our ports and waterways handle millions of tons of domestic and international cargo, including food and agricultural products, petrochemicals, and automobiles. In 2014 alone, $1.7 trillion worth of U.S. goods moved through our ports, representing 75% of imports and exports by weight.
But ports, like our highways and bridges, face challenges. As a country, we are investing too little, and as container ships grow larger and larger, more cargo must be unloaded into increasingly tight spaces. And ports face unique operational challenges as they move ever-expanding volumes of cargo between ships, trucks and rail lines. Today, not a single U.S. container port is in the top 15 container ports globally according to the Journal of Commerce. Expanding trade will continue to put pressure on the existing system, increasing congestion and threatening U.S. economic competitiveness; looking forward, the demand to move goods and raw materials on the U.S. transportation system is predicted to increase by 45 percent by 2040.
To support U.S. competitiveness in a global economy, it is essential that we expand, upgrade, modernize and maintain our maritime transportation infrastructure and strengthen our workforce. That’s why the Obama Administration has been working to identify opportunities to increase investment in U.S. ports. Recently, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced $800 million in available funding for the nation’s freight network and highlighted the opportunity for investments in 21st century ports...
The latest freight projections are in from our Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and they show that the number of freight tons moving on America’s transportation network is likely to grow by 40 percent in the next 3 decades while the value of freight will almost double, increasing by 92 percent. This affirms the projections in our Beyond Traffic study and reinforces the need to boost our freight capacity and unleash the full power of our nation's economy.
Today, we announced that up to $377.5 million will be available over 5 years to support solution-oriented transportation research at colleges and universities under our University Transportation Centers (UTC) program. For Fiscal Year 2016, that’s a substantial investment of up to $72.5 million in the talent and ingenuity cultivated in American higher education.
Our colleges and universities are among the best in the world. And, since 1987, the UTC program has funded valuable academic research that contributes to the long-term safety and vitality of transportation in America. But the challenges facing our transportation system over the next 30 years are daunting. So today, I’m calling on our research institutions to dig deep and think big...
The Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing (BEAST) lab at Rutgers.
America's transportation system bears a critical burden: it must move people and deliver the goods and materials that Americans need and want safely and efficiently, to help America's businesses compete effectively in the global economy.
This requirement isn’t easy to achieve. And, it’s about to get a lot more challenging with projected population and employment growth. But, a provision in the recently passed Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act offers DOT an opportunity to make significant headway in nationally and regionally significant projects.
At DOT, we all know that keeping America's freight moving is a key to economic growth, and we work hard to find ways to keep it moving as our transportation system faces the challenges of the future. But it’s important to have this conversation in places that are engines of the freight economy. We want to learn from local businesses and stakeholders in real cities.
It’s timely to have the conversation now because the recently enacted FAST Act is the first reauthorization bill to provide dedicated funding for freight investment in the country. And to receive funding, states will be required to have a freight plan in place.
So we’ve launched a series of roundtables on the freight economy that we’re planning to take around the country.
When a community invests in a bridge or rail project, they get more out if than just another piece of infrastructure; they get a better connection to the opportunity available outside that community. But when the same community is allowed to hire locally --when residents get a shot at building the project-- that creates opportunity within the community, and that's a powerful dividend.
Recently, Secretary Foxx wrote to stakeholders, reminding them that every $1 billion invested in federal highway and transit projects would support 13,000 jobs. He also told them of several different options to ensure that some of those jobs stay in the community...
This afternoon, I appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development and Related Agencies. I thanked Congress for its work in passing a bipartisan surface transportation bill last December, which has done a lot to remove the cloud of uncertainty hanging over our transportation system for the better part of the last decade.
And I also invited them to join President Obama and this Department as we build on the FAST Act with an even more robust budget proposal that creates an American transportation system unrivaled in its ability to meet the challenges of the future...
As you might have heard or read, Vice President Biden took a 2-day tour up the Mississippi River this week to mark the 7th anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by President Obama on February 17, 2009. I had the pleasure of joining him for this celebration --of jobs saved and created, of an economy rescued from the depths of recession, and of a historic investment in the transportation infrastructure we so badly needed.
And I think it's safe to say that our pairing could not have been more apt.
You see, from the earliest days of the Administration, the President entrusted the Vice President with implementation of this crucial legislation. And, although DOT was only responsible for about 6 percent of total Recovery Act spending, by visiting our Headquarters together --not once, but twice-- within the first few months of the Recovery, the President and Vice President made very clear the important role the Administration's $48 billion transportation investment would play in jump-starting our economy. How did DOT respond? By punching way above our weight class...