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2104 APTA Rail Conference - Montreal, Quebec, Canada


Therese McMillan
 Deputy Administrator
 Federal Transit Administrator

Remarks as delivered:

Thank you.

It’s great to join you again.

The people of Montreal have been such gracious hosts. While we’re here in this famously bilingual city, I would say it’s appropriate that we say both “thank you” and “merci.”

But for those of you who are from the United States, I want to make sure we all go home speaking the same language – and I’m not talking about English.

I’m talking about transit – and this summer of decision.

We face both reauthorization and a looming shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund that provides so many of our critical transportation investments.

And it’s not just about the future of our transportation systems, as Joe was able to articulate in his remarks, this really is about sustaining the growth and the quality of life in our communities.

And all of it is on the table now – and in the next few months, Congress will decide to act or it will decide to delay.

You have the opportunity to help shape that decision.

Now if you have any doubt as to what you can accomplish as the transit industry, let me make a suggestion.

At this very conference, and particularly tomorrow at the luncheon, we’ll celebrating 100 years of action by APTA, and the organizations that came before it, to ensure the safety and security of transit.

Because of that work, transit has been and continues to be one of the safest ways to travel.

At FTA, we’ll take any excuse to remind people of that – especially when we’re talking about our new transit safety oversight that was provided through MAP-21.

As you’ve heard us say on many occasions: our aim is to keep a safe mode of transit as safe as possible.

And despite the very real challenges we face, we can approach that work with confidence and optimism because of the long record of action on your part as the transit industry.

That’s why we continue to insist that the safety regime, that was developed under FTA authority, will NOT be a one-size-fits-all because the transit community is diverse and we will be responding to the range needs you actually have.

And in fact, the GROW AMERICA Act, which I’ll talk more about shortly, calls for increased flexibility on many many levels including safety.

Now our recognition of your expertise is why we sought your input as early as possible through the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we issued last Fall, and thank you for the many generous and thoughtful comments that you provided to us, and we’re continuing to invite your input as we’re working to publish a new Safety NPRM in the near future.

So again that’s just one example of the partnership that we have been trying to establish with all of you in the room in terms of looking toward the future of where transit needs to go.

So my suggestion is simply that you look at our collaborative long history of accomplishment on what must be – and at DOT, certainly is – our #1 priority: the safety of the people we serve and of the people who serve them – the transit workers.

If you recognize, as we do, what effective advocates that you’ve been to date, you’ll understand why I’m so eager to make sure we’re all singing from the same sheet of music at this very critical time for transit.

So I would like to share with you today what we see as the central priorities that we have to address for transit through reauthorization.

As you know, about two months ago the Administration sent to Congress the GROW AMERICA Act…

… a bold plan that would provide $302 Billion for transportation over the next 4 years, including $72 Billion for transit.

That’s a 70% increase over current spending – enough to allow us to increase – yes, that’s the “go big or go home” philosophy of putting something forward – enough to allow us to increase our core formula grant programs and to expand services and to invest in a meaningful state of good repair.

The GROW AMERICA Act would also close that looming gap in the Highway Trust Fund – without adding to the deficit.

And unless Congress decides to act, the Highway Trust Fund will run short as early as August, and the Mass Transit Account will follow it in the fall.

At that point, the Federal Transit Administration will have to begin cash management procedures, delaying and potentially reducing the reimbursements you’re counting on unless a solution can be found.

So indeed this is a crucial time for transit and for transportation in general.

Now, by its very nature, any bill that passes Congress and makes it to the President’s desk will be the product of compromise and of negotiation. That’s a given.

While it may differ in its details, we believe that any bill worthy of the transit industry’s support must address three key priorities.

FIRST: It must help close our infrastructure deficit. This is the foundation of everything we’re trying to do.

Last week, the New York Subway system celebrated its 110th birthday. Congratulations.

How much do you want to bet that they’re still relying on at least some of the original parts of the subway system in celebrating its 110th birthday?

As an industry, they wouldn’t be alone in that reliance.

The $86 Billion backlog in transit maintenance means that many of you are making due with vehicles, stations, and equipment that are in need of repair or replacement. We should not be in a position in just making due. That’s not enough of what we want to provide for our transit riders.

We’d need $2.5 Billion more every year from all sources just to maintain the status quo.

It’s no surprise that most of that backlog is in rail infrastructure, because of its capital-intensive nature, that accounts for about 63% of the state of good repair backlog.

Today, it’s state and local governments that have been bearing a major part of that burden, taking on more than half the annual spending to preserve and grow the nation’s transit systems.

That’s an important partnership, but the federal government needs to be a key partner as well.

These backlogged deficiencies have a direct impact on riders; they undermine the resiliency of our transit systems; they drain resources that could be better spent on strategic and timely replacement instead of catching up with the backlog; and it gets in the way of effective expansion.

So the GROW AMERICA Act increases State of Good Repair grants by 164%, to a total of $23 Billion over the next four years.

Combined with state and local funding, that would be a significant payment towards filling the serious infrastructure deficit that is facing us.

To keep transit safe and reliable, any reauthorization bill must address our infrastructure backlog aggressively.

Only by doing that can we establish a solid foundation on which to meet the SECOND priority which is keeping ahead of growing demand for transit and an expanding population.

As you know, transit ridership is at its highest level in generations – APTA’s been sure the world knows of that fact in its on-going reports – and at FTA we’re extremely proud as well that cities across the country are recognizing the value of having transit as part of its mobility portfolio. With a population that’s expected to expand by 100 Million people by 2050, that’s only going to increase.

Smart communities are investing in transportation infrastructure now to stay ahead of congestion and to pave the way – sometimes literally – for future growth.

Of course, Administrator Szabo and I believe, as you do, that rail is an essential component of that strategy to meet growth.

From Boston to Los Angeles – and Washington, D.C., to Washington State – communities of vision agree on that point.

In fact, some of our colleagues stopped in Minneapolis-St. Paul on the way here to celebrate the opening of the Central Corridor Light Rail Line in the Twin Cities. That project is 11 miles and 18 stations connecting millions of riders with jobs and opportunities throughout the Twin Cities areas.

The danger is that without long-term, predictable funding from the federal government, local leaders will begin to lose that confidence that they can have those visions and will then start turning to less ambitious projects that fill immediate needs but that do not adequately prepare us in a forward-looking way for the challenges of the future.

So one way to grade any re-authorization legislation is to judge its commitment to keeping pace with growing population.

And that, in turn, requires a commitment to resources that will help us rise to that challenge.

Today, there are 50 projects currently competing for limited Capital Investment Grant program – our popular New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity programs – that included 13 projects already under construction and 37 projects in various earlier stages of development.

There are another seven standing at the door waiting in line hoping to get in.

The GROW AMERICA Act would increase funding for Capital Investment Grants by 29% over the 2014 level to a total of more than $10.7 Billion over the next four years.

The THIRD priority for reauthorization: that is to create ladders of opportunity.

There are many reasons President Obama has been such an extraordinary supporter of transit, including:
•Your ability as an industry to move people safely and efficiently from Point A to Point B;
•Your positive impact on clean air;
•And the ways in which you help our nation become more energy independent.

Chief among those reasons, though, may be the fact that transit creates jobs, including creating jobs for the community it exists in.

That’s true in at least two important ways: the economic development brought about by investment in rail – we heard about what’s happening in Denver as one example of that – and the thousands of construction jobs required to complete those projects.

It’s true as well of the many suppliers, manufacturers, and vendors who benefit from spending on transit.

But we don’t want to overlook, though, the jobs you create directly and the many people you employ in good, family-supporting jobs in the delivery of transit every day.

Jobs in the transportation industry can be a ladder of opportunity.
 At the same time, you rely on your workers’ skills and expertise to continue providing safe and reliable service.

In recognition of that, the GROW AMERICA Act enhances access to training in high-tech, operations, and construction jobs within the transit industry.

It would help adapt the workforce to rapidly changing transportation technology by providing 10-times as much funding for workforce development each year for the next four years as in 2014 alone.

That’s a boon to those workers, to the industry that relies on them, and the riders they serve.

So, these then are three questions, I pose, that you can use to judge whether any reauthorization bill working its way through Congress meets the priorities of the transit industry:

 Does it help close the $86 Billion transit infrastructure deficit and provide for effective state of good repair going forward?

Does it prepare us for increased demand with investments in new services?

And does it build ladders of opportunity and create jobs for American workers, including those in the transportation industry?

There are many many more provisions in the GROW AMERICA Act that we could talk about.

You can find out about all of them from our web page: fta.dot.gov [FTA -dot- DOT -dot- GOV]

From there please click over to our GROW AMERICA page where we’ve posted more information, including a video of the webcast we held recently to answer your questions about the proposal.

I want you to be as informed as possible, because it’s up to you to get the word out.

Your stories are the most persuasive: the needs, the opportunities, and the risk of inaction. These are not fairytales, these are stories of fact, these are stories of experience, and these are stories of people’s lives.

And in this summer of decision, you can help lead that debate. Transit’s point needs to be heard and you can carry that forward.

So thank you for having me here.

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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