Secretary Ray LaHood
--Remarks as Prepared for Delivery--
National Congress of American Indians
2013 Executive Council Winter Session-Legislative Summit
March 6, 2013
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 infrastructure.
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 partners like you.
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.
And last December, we provided $15.5 million for 72 tribes to improve transit options in their communities. This funding came from the Federal Transit Administration’s Tribal Transit Program and it went to projects that help maintain or expand transit access, while improving transit safety.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a plan to create stronger communities and a stronger middle class.
As part of that plan, he has called on us to build the ladders of opportunity that help our kids climb into the middle class and beyond.
Good transportation infrastructure is one of the strongest ladders we can build.
President Obama knows this—that’s why he has proposed that we rebuild and upgrade our infrastructure so our businesses have the tools they need to compete.
And that’s why he has called for $50 billion in increased infrastructure investment.
The truth is, we need to give our kids and grand-kids a better transportation system than the one we inherited. Because transportation is not simply how we get from one point to another—it’s how we connect to opportunity.
I know I don’t need to tell you this. You know better than most the difference that reliable and safe transportation can make.
A rebuilt road or a new transit system can be the difference between a child going to school or not—or the difference between getting a job or not.
President Obama and this Administration are committed to partnering with tribal leaders to build ladders of opportunity—ladders like 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.
Across the country, we’re working to reduce fatalities and injuries on the nation’s highways.
We’re making a lot of progress, but we know we have more work to do. We always have more work to do when it comes to transportation, but this is especially true in Indian Country.
In rural areas, speeds tend to be higher, roads tend to be less forgiving, and visibility tends to be lower at night. All of this presents a safety challenge.
While seat belt use is at 86% nationwide, that number falls to 68.5% for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
And about two-thirds of American Indian passengers who were killed in car crashes in 2011 were unrestrained at the time, compared to 55% nationally.
These deaths are preventable, and we are working to help Tribal leaders address these and other safety issues in their communities.
One of our greatest tools for improving safety is the transportation bill, MAP-21.
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 next month, we’ll provide guidance for how you can develop your own safety plan.
As the funding becomes available, 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.
As we look to the future, we will continue to work with you to invest in the infrastructure that will best serve your communities.
We will continue to build the ladders of opportunity that support a stronger middle class.
And we’ll continue to build a brighter future for Indian Country.
We believe that your destiny shouldn’t be determined by where you live or who your parents are. It should be determined by how big you’re willing to dream, by how much effort you’re willing to put in to that dream.
President Obama and the Department of Transportation stand ready to build the infrastructure that makes those dreams possible.