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INFRA Grant – I-5 Golden State Chokepoint Relief Program

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
INFRA Grant – I-5 Golden State Chokepoint Relief Program
Santa Clarita, California
October 1, 2018

Thank you, Congressman Knight, for that introduction and for your tireless efforts to champion improvement of transportation infrastructure in southern California.    

It is good to be here this afternoon to discuss this $47 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to help improve the traffic situation here in Santa Clarita.  And to make I-5, or as it is known in southern California – “The 5” -- safer and more pleasant for everyone who travels on it. 

The 5 is the only Interstate highway that runs from Mexico to Canada.  At nearly 1400 miles long and traversing our three Pacific Coast states, it is important to the region, and to our nation.  And so the Department believes that this $47 million grant is not only a sound investment, but an important contribution to the region’s transportation network and its economy.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will administer the grant to advance the “Interstate 5 Golden State Chokepoint Relief Program.”  Most of the project’s cost will be covered by non-Federal funding.  In fact, 85.9% -- over $450 million -- of the project cost will come from private funding, local revenues, and state transportation funding measures.

The project will result in over 13 centerline miles of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and an additional 2.7 miles of new truck lanes.  There will also be new auxiliary lanes, bridges will be widened, some bridges will be replaced and other needed improvements will be made.

This project is designed to improve safety and mobility along the 5.  As we know from our nation’s transportation history, such projects have cascading benefits.  Among those benefits will be increased capacity for passenger traffic and freight hauling that will generate economic growth for the local area.  And improved access to Greater Los Angeles will benefit the regional economy.  Reducing congestion improves air quality and, as we can all attest, enhances the quality of life of everyone travelling on roads and highways.  

To help ensure that the promise of such projects is realized, the INFRA grant process includes new selection criteria intended to incentivize applicants to develop accountable performance standards.  The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) stepped up to the plate and proposed an accountability condition on this federal funding.   If average speed of the HOV lanes falls below its performance standard, Metro will work with the State to modify the lanes’ occupancy policy. If they do not secure a change within 12 months of the performance issue being identified, then Metro will return a portion of the award for each month of delay.

The terms of these accountability conditions are still being negotiated as part of the grant administration process.  We appreciate good-faith efforts to help assure taxpayers that they are getting value for their dollars.  About half of the selected projects this year, including this one, included such proposals. 

Deploying federal transportation funds as seed money to incentivize infrastructure investment is a priority for this administration. We also believe that it is important to empower decision-making at the state and local level.   

The Department of Transportation is applying these and other principles to grant programs like the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program, and the recently announced successor to TIGER grants – the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – or BUILD Transportation Grants.

This is important because local government is a vital partner for improving our nation’s infrastructure.  After all, counties own and maintain 46 percent of the nation’s public roads, 38 percent of its bridges and more than a third of its public airports.  America’s counties help pay for 78 percent of the public transit systems.  The Department’s role, then, is to be your partner, because you know best the infrastructure needs of your area.

Though probably of little comfort to drivers in rush hour this evening, southern California’s transportation network has come a long way in the past century.  One hundred years ago, the route from Los Angeles to Bakersfield was a 12-hour ordeal during which drivers endured nearly 700 curves on an unpaved road – and without air conditioning!  The historic Ridge Route, its successor -- US 99 -- and Interstate 5 -- have all been engineering feats to facilitate travel and transport over these mountains that so distinguish southern California.  Though 8 lanes wide now, and with a lot fewer curves, The Grapevine is still legend. 

Keeping up with the traffic in this thriving region will continue to challenge transportation planners.  Today’s gathering is an encouraging example of the capacity for all levels of government to come together and do great things – for Californians and for all Americans.   Thank you all for being here.  And again, thank you, Congressman Knight, for your insights and your hard work to address the transportation needs of southern California.

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