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FHWA Administrator Awards Ceremony

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Remarks Prepared for Delivery By
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
FHWA Administrator Awards Ceremony
Washington, DC
December 5, 2017

Thank you, Brandye [Hendrickson], for that warm introduction.  And let me thank you for the great job you are doing as Acting FHWA Administrator.

I am so pleased to be here for these awards recognizing outstanding performance by our Federal Highway Administration colleagues.

Let me recognize those who have made today’s ceremony possible:

  • Acting Administrator Brandye L. Hendrickson;
  • Executive Director Butch Waidelich; and,
  • All the team members who helped.

While this is my first time joining you as Secretary, I often attended ceremonies such as this when I served as Deputy Secretary. Recognizing those who go above and beyond the call of duty has always been important part of my job.

The work you do at FHWA helps improve mobility on our nation's highways and – most importantly – helps to ensure the safety of the traveling public.  

America's road system has grown substantially since FHWA was first established. There are more than twice as many drivers today as there were a half-century ago and more than three times as many vehicles. That’s why improving safety is so important to the Department’s mission and to yours.

Let me touch upon a few examples of your achievements.

In March, FHWA played a critical role in the recovery and rebuilding efforts after a commuter bridge collapsed in a fiery accident on I-85 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Just hours after the collapse, you had people on the scene to help. You also assisted the quick release of emergency funds within 12 hours of the collapse, and worked with local and state partners to begin the rebuilding process.

Additionally, you have provided emergency funds and helped to reopen roads and bridges for thousands of people affected by the recent series of devastating hurricanes and other natural disasters. In total, FHWA has released $1.5 Billion in Emergency Relief funds this year – that’s no small task.   

I cannot emphasize enough how important your work is to keeping our country moving and safe. So, thank you for everything you have done and continue to do. 

As you know, this Administration is committed to refurbishing and revitalizing our country’s critical infrastructure. Let me share with you my three top priorities as Secretary:

  1. Safety, which will always be number one,
  2. Infrastructure; and,
  3. Preparing for the future by encouraging innovation.

That last point is especially important because transportation is on the verge of one of the most transformational eras in history. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration have an important role to play in building and shaping this future. 

We have already seen innovation improve safety and convenience for travelers – from electronic tolling to rear-view cameras and automatic emergency braking. But new technologies — such as automated driving systems — hold the promise to dramatically reduce highway fatalities and expand access to transportation for traditionally underserved communities. So, encouraging innovation, while ensuring safety is more important than ever.

One of the things we can do to help usher in this new era is to implement the President’s regulatory reform agenda.  That means identifying unnecessary or overly burdensome regulations that make little or no contribution to safety, and creating alternatives that achieve positive results in a cost-effective manner.  Going forward, the regulatory process must be data-driven, grounded in risk-based analysis, and rooted in sound science.   Every mode has a contribution to make.  So, I look forward to working together with you on these and other important initiatives.  

Let me close by noting that we are one team!  We must accomplish our mission together.  The leadership of the Department needs your expertise and support, as we move forward with an ambitious agenda for our country.

So, congratulations to all of today’s award recipients – 67 individuals and 22 teams in total. Let me also take this opportunity to recognize Butch Waidelich. Later this week, he will receive the “Melville F. Coolbaugh Award” from his alma mater – the Colorado School of Mines. Congratulations, Butch!  We are lucky to have you!

Before I go, let me also wish Happy Holidays to all of you, and your family, friends and loved ones. Keep up the good work!

Thank you.