2015 a good year for U.S. roads...and your Federal Highway Administration
At the Federal Highway Administration, we’ve reached the end of the year but definitely not the end of the road.
Last January, I helped kick off the year near the Piscataqua River between Kittery, Maine, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at the first groundbreaking of any U.S. bridge for 2015 – the $201 million Sarah Mildred Long Bridge replacement project, which relies heavily on a $25 million TIGER grant and other federal funds. Originally slated to open 2 years later in 2017, that project set the tone for what proved to be a year filled with historic achievements and new beginnings.
For example, America’s highways and byways carried more U.S. drivers than ever before, with an estimated 3.1 trillion vehicle-miles traveled expected this year. And overall freight tonnage is estimated to have increased this year as well. With more drivers, more freight, and more overall weight, America’s highways and byways are doing more work than ever.
In early December, President Obama signed the nation’s first long-term surface transportation bill in nearly a decade. The “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST)” Act is the largest bill of its kind in history, and makes $305 billion available to improve U.S. transportation infrastructure – including about $226 billion for roads and bridges. It’s been a long time coming and represents a great way to start the New Year and – as Secretary Foxx said – “a great start to a new era of building.”
Our “Every Day Counts” (EDC) initiative moved into phase 3 this year, yielding 11 truly impressive technological innovations. Each one of these is a means of shortening the project delivery process, enhancing durability and safety, and improving environmental sustainability of highway projects. From road diets and smarter work zones to ultra-high performance concrete connections for prefabricated bridge elements, EDC-3 yielded a bumper crop of highway advances that will be a tough act to follow for EDC-4. The FAST Act codified EDC in law by name – that's a great testament to this amazing partnership and prime-time recognition of the work that states, locals and the private sector are doing in innovation.
We cut red tape for cities nationwide by increasing design flexibilities for highways designed for less than 50 mph, from 13 required elements to two. For roads with design speeds of 50 mph or more – such as the interstates that carry the bulk of our nation’s freight – the criteria would be cut from 13 to 10.
We also provided millions in grant funding to spur the use of real-time travel information technologies along 13 of the nation’s most congested routes. By expanding the use of such resources to help drivers avoid congestion or find alternate routes, commuters and freight shippers alike can make better decisions about when and where to travel based on up-to-the-second data. Innovations like these are 21st-century tools for our 21st-century economy, and will make our nation's transportation system even more effective in the decades ahead.
The FHWA continued to make safety a priority, though fatalities in roadway work zones increased from 579 in 2013 to 669 in 2014 and reminded us that we have our work cut out for us. That work won’t be over until there are zero roadway fatalities.
By linking workers to jobs and products to markets around the world, our highway system is the nation’s primary economic engine and a ladder of opportunity for millions. This year was a good one for America’s roads, but stay tuned – because 2016 looks even better.