Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
American Trucking Associations
Orange County Convention Center
Monday, October 23, 2017
Thank you, Chris, for that kind introduction. Chris is an old friend and colleague from the Department of Labor. It is not a coincidence that the very first stakeholder organization meeting I had after being sworn in was in February with members of the American Trucking Associations! You have a great representative in Chris, to make sure that this vital sector of our economy is well represented and to ensure that your voices are being heard from the very beginning of this administration.
There are a number of Department of Transportation folks attending this conference. Let me acknowledge Daphne Jefferson, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, and thank her for serving as Acting Administrator during the transition.
Trucking accounts for nearly 71% of the total tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transport, 80% of the total revenue, and employs 7 million people. So one need look no further than the health of your industry to get a sense of how America is doing.
The trucking industry is of enormous importance to our economy. And you are critical members of our communities, perhaps under-appreciated when times are good, grocery shelves are stocked and gas stations are open. But when the going gets tough, America looks to you. When a disaster causes those shelves to empty, gas pumps to shut off and electrical grids to shut down, you bring in the supplies that save lives, provide comfort and allow people to rebuild.
This has been in sharp focus in recent weeks. Consecutive extreme hurricanes caused loss of life and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage along our Gulf Coast, Florida and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands – which endured two Category 5 storms in two weeks!
ATA offered the assistance of its members willing to help their fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. We are all grateful to all the truckers who brave less than ideal and sometimes downright dangerous conditions to get their cargo to communities in dire need. And thanks are due the American Trucking Associations, in part for its involvement with the American Logistics Aid Network. This is a non-profit organization founded by several associations, including ATA, who came together after Hurricane Katrina. These are experts in transportation, warehousing, cold storage and distribution who help locate and quickly move goods from suppliers to affected communities by coordinating with businesses, voluntary organizations and relief agencies.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Crisis Management Center has been working 24/7, since before Harvey hit Texas. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has so far made nearly $100 million of Emergency Relief funds immediately available for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida and Texas to restore emergency access and initiate critical repairs to damaged roads and bridges.
One of the major problems before and after these storms hit is the lack of fuel — aviation fuel for airplanes and gasoline for pump stations. Within one-hour of Texas Governor Abbott making the request, I signed Emergency Declarations removing restrictions on fuel delivery. This allowed fuel trucks from 27 states and jurisdictions to quickly deliver supplies to hurricane-impacted areas. We established Routing Assistance Hotlines to support the truck transport of Federal and State response personnel, equipment and goods. In Puerto Rico, we issued waivers to allow more truck drivers to transport more fuel to hospitals and gas stations. DOT’s Maritime Administration dispatched ships to provide power, food, clean water and berthing for first responders and emergency workers. It remains an ongoing, intensive effort to help in any way we can.
I accompanied Vice President Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The devastation was heartbreaking. But the resilience of residents and outpouring of support from around the nation was heartening. Among the vivid impressions is that the recovery efforts will need to be intensive and sustained, for a lengthy period of time.
Especially after you have been in an area where communities have been cut off and people put at risk because of damaged roads and bridges, you can’t take infrastructure for granted.
Investing in infrastructure repair and improvement for the entire nation has been among the President’s highest priorities since he took office. That’s why this Administration has 16 federal agencies working to craft a comprehensive infrastructure proposal. It will encompass transportation, power transmission, water supplies, veterans’ hospitals, and possibly broadband.
Let me share some of the details of the proposal, which will include $1 trillion in investment over ten years. The federal government will provide a minimum of $200 billion in new direct spending. The remainder will come from a variety of non-federal sources, including local, state and private investment. Private sector investment is not the solution for every infrastructure project, but it can be a useful tool. In fact, pension funds say they are eager and interested in investing in public infrastructure.
But, about half of the states in our country disallow or discriminate against the private sector investing in public infrastructure.
In fact, in my home state of KY, it was not until Jan of 2017 that the law was passed or the state legislature passed a law that allowed private sector to invest in roads and bridges in KY.
Regulatory reform is another key element of the package. This includes eliminating bureaucratic roadblocks and delays that hold up new infrastructure for years, even decades. In 1936, it took only five years to complete the massive Hoover Dam. By comparison an additional runway at the Taos, New Mexico airport took 19 years to complete because of the permitting and approval process. And I visited Alaska, where the Department was finally able to clear the way for a road that provides, among other things, year-round access to medical care for a small community. It took 35 years to get the approval!
So on August 15, 2017, the White House issued a new executive order to fast track and centralize federal decision making on infrastructure. The new process is called “One Federal Decision.” Permits must be issued within 90 days of a Record of Decision. It requires that decision making for each major infrastructure project be centralized under one federal department. It speeds up permitting. And all federal environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects must be completed within two years.
At DOT, we will continue to make prudent, common sense reforms that will mean more projects, more jobs and less paperwork!
Private sector investment can save taxpayers time and money, and enhances safety by replacing crumbling infrastructure more quickly. It also better protects the taxpayers by identifying and mitigating risk.
The Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement project in New York is one example. By allowing private sector investment, costs were reduced by more than $1 billion over initial expectations, and the project is ahead of schedule. The Pennsylvania Rapid Bridge Replacement project is an example of how private investment can benefit rural areas. By including private market support, estimated costs for replacing 558 structurally deficient bridges in rural Pennsylvania were reduced by 20 percent. And the completion schedule was accelerated by several years.
Originally, we anticipated the Administration’s infrastructure proposal by late Fall 2017. But the tax cut package will be acted upon first, so infrastructure will not be taken up until that has been completed.
ATA has an extensive legislative and regulatory agenda, a good portion of which is encompassed by DOT. Some of it, notably the current and anticipated shortage of truck drivers, also gets my attention as a former Secretary of Labor. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration is looking at a number of approaches. We think an apprenticeship program and outreach to veterans, women and traditionally underrepresented communities could help. Around 7% of commercial drivers are women. We can’t afford not to tap every group, given how many more truck drivers we need.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is also working with the ATA – and other industry and safety stakeholders - on the “Our Roads, Our Safety” public outreach program. This joint effort provides people with the information they need to make safe and responsible decisions while driving around large commercial motor vehicles.
Autonomous vehicle technology is perhaps the most exciting and far-reaching development for transportation since Henry Ford manufactured the Model T. On September 12, we issued new federal guidance for automated driving systems, called: “A Vision for Safety 2.0” This is a fast-evolving arena so we are already working on the next installment. We will continue providing voluntary guidance and updated best practices that prioritize safety. We are, of course, keenly interested in what this portends for trucking – and truckers -- and welcome your continued input.
It’s wonderful to see everyone here attending this “Advocacy & Government Affairs” event. It may seem maddening at times that the extensive reach of government into your industry requires the devotion of significant time and resources. But the First Amendment’s freedoms of speech and association are vital ones. Few groups exercise it as adroitly as the ATA. And those of us who are charged with the responsibility of governance, need to hear from you so that we can do a better job for America.