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Secy. Ray LaHood notes, "if we’re really serious about creating livable, sustainable communities built around good transportation, then we must reform our current spending programs."

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Secretary of Transportation: "people want the opportunity to leave their cars behind"

Remarks for Secy. Ray LaHood, U.S. Department of Transportation
Transportation Research Board Chairman’s Lunch ; Jan. 13, 2010

Good afternoon.

It’s an honor to be here at one of the largest annual meetings of transportation professionals in the world.

As you know, strengthening and modernizing our nation’s transportation infrastructure has been a top domestic priority of President Obama’s from the day he took office nearly a year ago.

And what a year it’s been.

The Department of Transportation, with help from many of you here, has succeeded in standing up the most sweeping and ambitious economic recovery program in more than half a century.

We’re grateful to you, and all our state and local partners, for spending economic recovery funds quickly and responsibly.
Together, we’ve already saved or created tens of thousands of jobs for American workers hard-hit by the recession.

But this is just the first leg of our marathon effort to make transportation an economic engine of recovery – and a gateway to a better quality of life for all Americans.

Congress is now considering another round of economic recovery funding.

The House passed a new “jobs” bill at the end of the 2009 session. We’re hoping the Senate will soon take up its own version. We think this is crucial because although the economy is starting to recover, the jobless rate is still far too high. Many Americans are just scraping by, and that’s unacceptable.

President Obama is committed to improving the fortunes of America’s families and the best way to do that is with jobs.

The final bill should reflect a robust investment in highways, transit, marine highways, aviation and rail, including Amtrak. We know these investments will produce good paying jobs – and great projects --for many Americans.

This is the right direction, at the right time, and it’s what American taxpayers are asking for.

We received many, many more applications for our three discretionary stimulus grant programs than we could possibly fund.

That includes our high-speed rail program, our discretionary TIGER grants, and our transit energy grants.

These programs are important not only because they create good jobs that help the environment, but also because they fund projects that are nearly impossible to do through our traditional base programs.

For example, we’re sitting on high-quality applications worth billions of dollars submitted through our TIGER grant program that could be announced right away – if we had the funds.

Congress made a wise decision to appropriate additional funds for a similar program this fiscal year.

But there’s so much more we could do.

So we hope Congress sees the 2010 jobs bill as an opportunity to unlock many more good transportation projects that are ready to go with more TIGER funding.

I know first-hand how important these projects are for America.

Over the last year, I’ve traveled to 31 states and 66 cities.

I’ve met with governors, mayors, entrepreneurs, and ordinary citizens.

Everywhere I go, the message is loud and clear: People want more and better transportation infrastructure in their communities – from highways and bridges to light rail, multi-modal transit stations, bike paths, and walkways.

They want the opportunity to leave their cars behind. To live near work and schools and good hospitals. And to enjoy clean, green neighborhoods.

Our stimulus funds are helping many communities begin to realize those dreams.

And we’re pleased to see that Congress is also taking action.

But if we’re really serious about creating livable, sustainable communities built around good transportation, then we must reform our current spending programs.

I’m pleased to announce today that with support from President Obama and OMB Director Peter Orszag, we’re taking a major step forward to do just that.

We’re going to free our flagship transit capital program from long-standing requirements that have allowed us only to green-light projects that meet very narrow cost and performance criteria.

Instead, as we evaluate major transit projects going forward, we’ll consider ALL the factors that help communities reduce their carbon footprint, spur economic activity, and relieve congestion.

To put it simply: We WILL take livability into account.

This new approach will help us do a MUCH better job aligning our priorities and values with our investments in transit projects that truly strengthen communities.

We’ll finally be able to make the case for investing in popular streetcar projects and other transit systems that people want – and that our old ways of doing business didn’t value enough.

This critical change will build on other important developments, like our ground-breaking partnership with HUD and the EPA, which lets us coordinate our community-based investments in transportation, housing, water, and other resources.

This year, the Recovery Act will also help us drive our livability and sustainability goals forward.

For example, we’ll soon we’ll begin awarding 1.5 billion dollars in TIGER grants to innovative and important transportation projects across the U.S.

Our staff has evaluated these proposals to ensure they meet our criteria for safety, livability, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, and other key goals.

And as you know, we’re about to make history by awarding 8 billion dollars in grants to jump-start high-speed passenger rail service in key corridors around the country.

This is tremendously exciting.

More than 30 rail industry manufacturers and suppliers have promised to establish or expand their base of operations in the U.S. if they’re chosen by the states to build America’s new high-speed rail lines.

I’ll make sure those investments in manufacturing help our most distressed communities in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.

Creating good new manufacturing jobs in this country -- while modernizing transportation at the same time -- goes to the heart of what livability is all about – and reflects the principles this country was built on.

There’s one more critical piece of the puzzle, and that’s reauthorization.

I recognize there’s a lot of capacity and demand for additional transportation investments across the country that neither the stimulus nor a new jobs bill can provide.

We need a comprehensive, forward-looking reauthorization program.

We need to empower regional and local transportation authorities to invest in the kinds of projects that will spur economic growth, enhance livability, and preserve the qualities that make each area special.

To achieve our priorities, we’ll pursue more flexible partnerships with states, MPOs, transportation agencies, and local communities.

And we’ll continue to break down our “stovepipe” mentality so we can focus on investing our tax dollars in projects that really matter.

That’s the path we’re already on – and with Congress’s help, it’s the path that will help us take transportation and infrastructure to a whole new level in this country.

The bottom line is, we’re going to ensure that our priorities, and the outcomes people care about, drive our investments – and not the other way around.

In closing, I want to thank all of you for your many contributions to the field of transportation – from cutting-edge research to management expertise.

This Administration believes the Federal government should lead the charge for better transportation in this country – but we cannot do it alone.

We appreciate your support, and we’re counting on you to do great things with us in the months and years ahead.

Thank you.



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