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National Conference of State Legislatures 2013 Summit

Deputy Secretary John Porcari's remarks as prepared for delivery at the National Conference of State Legislatures 2013 Summit, “All Aboard! Transit, Jobs, and Economic Development” Panel
Atlanta, GA, August 13, 2013

Thank you for the introduction, Senator Farley.  

It’s terrific to be here with you, Art, and Robert.  

Good afternoon, everyone.  

If you ask any CEO where they want to open up shop and hire. If you ask any parents where they want to live, and work, and raise a family. You hear the same things time and time again.  

They want light rail systems that reduce congestion and connect to jobs. They want streetcar networks that give them the option to leave the car at home. They –and their workforce– want transit.

Well, I’m here to tell you that, at the Department of Transportation, we’ve heard the message loud and clear.  

In just the last five years, we’ve committed nearly $9 billion to 36 transit rail projects all across the country through our New Starts program.

We’ve made these investments because we know that if you build safe, efficient transit systems, people are eager to use them. Americans took 10.5 billion trips on public transportation last year – the highest number on record since 1957.  

And we know that wherever we build public transportation in this country, whether it’s a city or a small town, economic growth follows. New families move into neighborhoods that were once forgotten. New businesses open their doors and hire.

This past January, the Loyola Avenue Line joined New Orleans’ streetcar network thanks in part to $45 million from DOT’s highly competitive TIGER grant program. Running 1.6 miles through the Central Business District, this new line is spurring development in what had been an economic dead zone between the Warehouse District and the Superdome.  

Construction recently began on the first phase of a project that will replace four blocks of surface parking lots on the streetcar line with 500 apartments and 170,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The developer of the South Market District project recently told New Orleans Magazine, “When the Loyola streetcar location was announced, that solidified for us where we should go next.”

That’s what this is about.  This is transit-oriented development.  

And this is a story that’s playing out in cities across America.  

In Portland, the city’s streetcar system has stimulated $3.5 billion of economic development in the downtown area.  

In the District of Columbia, the ongoing construction of the streetcar line has revitalized the H Street Corridor with new dining and entertainment options.  

And as streetcar systems in Tucson, Charlotte, and Salt Lake City come on line over the next few years, even more communities will soon experience the benefits of clean, green public transportation firsthand.

What do these cities have in common?  

They’ve each made a sustained commitment to investing in the transit solutions they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Take Dallas, for example. Dallas is a city synonymous with big oil and big trucks. But in 1983, the city and a dozen of its suburbs voted for a 1-cent sales tax to fund better transit services. Today, it’s the biggest operator of light rail in the country, with 85 miles of track.  

In the last 30 years, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, known as DART, has grown to serve over 200,000 people a day and cover 700 square miles. It’s a vital part of that metro area’s economy – and its quality of life.  

The 28-mile DART Green Line, which has been supported in part by the Federal Transit Administration, opened last February and has already spurred over $5 billion in economic development and created 48,000 jobs.  

These are the results public transportation can deliver.  

And DOT is committed to making it easier for your cities, large and small, to invest in the transit solutions that will work best for your communities.  

President Obama has requested $2 billion to support projects that provide new and expanded transit service as part of his 2014 budget – and the demand for such projects continues to grow.  

Our New Starts competitive grant program funds roughly half the cost of new and extended light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and ferry systems in the United States. And thanks to the changes we’ve made to how we award New Starts grants, it’s easier than ever for communities to get their most beneficial and innovative transit projects off the ground quickly.  

We’ve simplified how we measure a project’s cost-effectiveness.   

We’re using a wider range of factors to evaluate a proposed project – like how it will benefit the local economy and environment.   

And we’ve streamlined the grant making process by reducing regulations and cutting red tape.

What the President knows, what we at DOT know, and what everyone here in this room knows is that investments in transit aren’t just crucial to the health of America’s transportation systems. They’re crucial to the health of our economy – and our communities.  

Thank you all for being here today, and I look forward to our discussion.

Updated: Thursday, December 18, 2014
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