Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
FHWA Awards Ceremony
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Thank you, Nicole. We really appreciate having you back at the Department as FHWA Administrator. Nicole previously served as Assistant Secretary of Government Affairs and Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 2003-2008. You have a wealth of knowledge about DOT. You are doing a great job!
Let me congratulate Deputy Administrator Mala Parker and Associate Administrator for Policy and Governmental Affairs Alex Etchen on their new assignments. Let me also note FHWA Executive Director Tom Everett and Public Affairs Director Mike Reynard for their leadership.
And of course let me recognize the terrific FHWA career professionals who have been the backbone of this agency for so many years. I am so pleased to be here with you, your families and guests on this special day.
Today is a wonderful day to recognize the work of the Federal Highway Administration. FHWA’s historic role in building the interstate highway system helped realize one of the great infrastructure achievements in American history. FHWA continues to lead on the Department’s priorities. The first is: safety, which is always #1. The second priority is rebuilding and refurbishing our country’s critical infrastructure. And the third priority is preparing for the future by engaging with emerging technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy, without hampering innovation.
2019 has been a busy year at FHWA.
In August, we announced Competitive Highway Bridge Program (CHBP) grants, which were awarded to 20 projects in 18 States to fund bridge improvements in rural areas. This included Mississippi, where CHBP funding went towards replacing 12 bridges in 7 counties.
The first round of awards for the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP) grants were also announced earlier this year in June. These grants will help build and repair roads and bridges that serve Tribal or Federal lands.
Going forward, more emphasis is going to be placed on ensuring that rural areas receive their fair share of the Department’s grant programs. This is the spirit behind the newly instituted ROUTES initiative. The ROUTES initiative is a result of increasing awareness of the inequities in resources devoted to urban versus rural America. The disparity in resources has safety and economic ramifications. Rural America comprises nearly 70% of roadways and those carry 47% of America’s truck traffic. Though only 20% of Americans reside in rural areas, 46% of traffic fatalities occur on rural roads. The state of infrastructure in rural regions impacts the residents, travelers -- 44% of whom are urban dwellers -- and regional and interstate commerce.
Rural America is not looking for a handout. They merely want not to be overlooked or discriminated against and to have their fair share in the distribution of federal resources.
The ROUTES Initiative will achieve greater equity by helping rural communities navigate the complex federal grant process. And it will provide federal authorities with better data to guide infrastructure funding to where it is most needed.
September’s first ever FHWA research showcase was another highlight of 2019. Many of the most innovative DOT projects currently under development at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center were on display.
As that event demonstrated, the Department is committed to preparing for the future. This is why the NETT council was created earlier this year. It was established to provide a common portal to the Department’s decentralized modes to better engage with new technologies which are cross-modal.
FHWA has also made important strides to modernize federal regulations with safety, efficiency and taxpayers in mind. In September, FHWA updated a century-old rule to give States more flexibility and choice in which products or services can be used on federally funded highway projects. This much-needed update will improve the safety and efficiency of State transportation infrastructure projects and save millions of taxpayer dollars.
And just last month, FHWA held an important summit with FRA and announced the third edition of the Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook. This is the first update in over ten years. This important resource offers guidance for best practices and new standards to improve safety at the Nation’s 130,000 public rail and road junctures. It’s a great example of partnership and working together to reduce the number of fatalities at rail crossings.
All of these changes are coming at just the right time. In 2018, Americans drove over 3 trillion miles, representing an increase of over 12 billion miles from the previous year. This record-setting surge reflects a robust economy, lower gas prices and is another reason to ensure that our roads and bridges are well-maintained and modernized to improve safety.
FHWA’s investment in innovation is improving safety, highway efficiency, and overall quality of life for the American people.
As the New Year approaches, we should reflect on FHWA’s many accomplishments in 2019 and recommit to building on that momentum.
Each one of you has a vital role to play. As we move into the New Year, I encourage you to continue working to keep our country connected, competitive, safe and focused on the future.
So with that, congratulations to today’s honorees! I look forward to working with you in 2020.
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