Remarks at the Pickaway East-West Connector

Secretary Anthony Foxx
Remarks at the Pickaway East-West Connector

Lockbourne, OH • April 14, 2014
Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thanks very much, Jerry Wray for the introduction.

Look at this turnout.  Lockbourne has a population of about 200. And it looks like all of you are here today.

Thanks for coming out. And more importantly, thanks for all of your work on this project.

This is something important. Something that’s going to make a difference in the lives of hundreds – if not hundreds of thousands – of Americans. 

I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating here. But I’m not.

Because when you decided to build this road, you decided to build a way for hundreds of commercial trucks to bring their goods to market more affordably and efficiently every day.  Already, a quarter-million shipping containers pass through this freight corridor every year. Now, even more will – and that’s a good thing, since we need to find a way to move 14 billion more tons of freight by 2050.

Whole industries and jobs are created in this way. Not just the construction and the engineering jobs needed to build this road. But also jobs for the truckers that will drive this road… and the manufacturers who’ll make the goods they carry… and the retailers who’ll sell them.

This is why, at USDOT, we were proud to help fund this project with $16 million from our TIGER program. But you should be proud, too.

Traditionally, Washington has understood this. Democrats and Republicans have come together to put real money on the table to build projects like the Pickaway East-West Connector. 

And they’ve done that because the benefits of those investments have been obvious to all of us.

Two years ago – when this road was still in the planning phase – the Columbus Business First newsletter ran a story and quoted a local businessman. “Either way,” the man said, “[this project means] jobs. Good jobs.”

And he probably said that because that’s what investing in infrastructure has always meant. It’s always meant a better living and a better life for American families. Including mine.

Three generations ago, this country built the interstate highway system, which gave rise to the trucking industry as we know it. 

One of those truck drivers was my great-grandfather, a guy named Pete Kelly.

Pete had thirteen kids – and barely had an elementary school education. But he had his truck. And with the living he made from it, he was able to send every one of his children to college, including my grandmother, who became a teacher and helped raise me.  So I am where I am because a country road once gave my great-grandfather a shot at the American dream.

For years, we’ve understood how  infrastructure is part of a formula that helps future generations succeed: You take a community that needs a road or a bridge or a transit system… you add some good planning and some investment… and that equals more jobs and more opportunity.

Now, you would think that if we had a way to create jobs that was this foolproof, Congress would keep doing it.

But as early as August, the fund that pays for rebuilding and repairing this country’s highways will essentially run dry. States are already canceling projects because of the uncertainty.

Twenty-seven times over the past five years, Congress has chosen to slap a band aid on this country’s transportation system – funding it in fits and starts, rather than fixing it for the long-term.  

Some people kick the can down the road because they say Washington is too broken to make it happen.  Or, they say it’s too expensive. Or that, we can’t tackle an issue like this in an election year.

The result has been a huge backlog of projects, an infrastructure deficit.

To be fair, no one thinks this is a good idea. But everyone has their own idea of how to fix the problem.

You all know something about barbecue right? Well, this is sort of like that.

I’m from North Carolina. We like our barbecue vinegar-based. But our neighbors in Kentucky… they like it with bourbon.

Everyone thinks their recipe is better than the others. But let me tell you something:  No matter which recipe you use, no one complains about the result. Everyone likes BBQ.  

Same goes for infrastructure: It’s time for folks to stop bickering and start building.  Because everyone is going to benefit from the end result. Especially this state,

You may have a new road here, but more than 40 percent of all the roads in Ohio are still in “poor or mediocre condition.” And because bad roads mean more traffic jams and more wear-and-tear on cars, they’re costing every driver in this state $212 dollars a year.

But the cost to you is nothing compared to the cost to future generations.
I’ll give you an example. Out west, there’s a stretch of road under construction today that the community waited nearly 60 years to build.

In 1954, when the planners first proposed the road, they estimated it would cost $4.3 million – or about $37 million in today’s dollars.  Well, today, the road doesn’t cost just $37 million. The estimated price tag is nearly 25 times that: it’s nearly one billion dollars.

My point is: Not only is investment in transportation today good for job growth, it’s cheaper to do it now than to wait and do it years from now. When Congress doesn’t decide who should pay for transportation… the person who pays is you.

This is why we’re out in America on the bus – because you have you have an opportunity to make them understand why all of this is so crucial.

These are your roads. These are your bridges. And it’s your Congress.

Soon, the President and I will send a bill to Congress that will tackle the problems I’ve discussed. It won’t just refill the Highway Trust Fund – because that’s the bare minimum. America has never been a country that’s just done the minimum. This bill will change the way we approach transportation – making it more efficient and innovative, so we can meet the country’s future needs, all without adding to the budget deficit.

But none of this will happen without your help. 

Everywhere I go, I hear about roads, bridges, runways and rail lines that people want to build.

When I was in St. Louis this winter, I helped cut the ribbon on a new bridge spanning the Mississippi. It was during the polar vortex – and still hundreds of people, maybe even a thousand, showed up.

Now, we just have to convince Congress to have the same fortitude.

So, call your representative. Write your senator.

Tell them to make this time different – that we can’t slap a band aid on the problem anymore.

But most of all, tell them what investing in transportation has done here.

And tell them that it shouldn’t end here either. 

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Updated: Thursday, December 11, 2014
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