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Opening Remarks at Dakota Transit Association Annual Meeting


Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan
 Dakota Transit Association Annual Meeting
 Opening Remarks
 Fargo, ND

Thank you for that introduction Barb (Cline).

And I want to thank the planning committee and the DTA Board for their hard work in putting this event together.

I’m delighted to be here on behalf of President Obama and Secretary LaHood for Dakota Transit Association’s (DTA) 25th Anniversary.

DTA’s long-term success is a result of dedicated, hard-working employees.

I was told we have two transit professionals in the audience who have been with DTA for all of its 25 years – Brenda Paradis of Mitchell, South Dakota  and Carol Seurer of Sisseton, South Dakota. 

Brenda’s system has the 2009 South Dakota Dispatcher of the Year and Carol’s system is the 2009 South Dakota Innovative Agency of the Year.

Brenda and Carol, I can’t thank you enough for all your hard work and your commitment to DTA.

This is my first time visiting the Dakotas. Though your transit systems may be smaller than the New Yorks and San Franciscos of this world, they are no less important to the livability of your communities.

President Obama has made livable communities a key aspect of his agenda.

Livable communities are safe communities; communities that provide a strong economic base for their citizens; provide housing and transportation choices for residents with various needs; and are sustainable from an environmental perspective.

Expect to see livable communities as a centerpiece of the upcoming transportation authorization legislation and as elements of new Department of Transportation programs and policies.

The era of one-size-fits-all transportation projects must give way to an approach that preserves and enhances unique community characteristics – be they urban or rural.

Rural Livability

Transportation that provides reliable, safe access to jobs, education, health care and services is every bit as important to rural areas as urban areas.

More remote locations in rural areas do present unique challenges but the livability of our rural communities is enhanced when:
•Our elderly citizens can stay in their own homes even when they give up driving;
•Citizens with disabilities can get to a job;
•Young adults have affordable and reliable transportation to education and training programs; and
•Families can reduce their transportation expenses.

Not only is transit already playing a key role in the livability of the Dakotas, there are some big, creative ideas coming from these smaller communities.

Prairie Hills Transit in Spearfish, South Dakota is a great example of creative coordination of transit with other valuable community services:
•Space in their main facility is currently shared with a food bank;
•Space for Child Care Services is proposed to be housed with their new transit facility;

FTA encourages innovative transit investments such as this that support broader social and economic development goals.

Standing Rock Public Transportation in North Dakota which has provided service for over 20 years (Sept 1 was the anniversary “Transit Day” celebration) to 14 tribal communities spread over two states and four counties:
•Provides the only source of mobility for many tribal and non-tribal residents;
•10 daily fixed routes target low-income and HUD housing developments;
•Two demand response routes link to all fixed routes and major off-reservation medical services, including Veterans Hospitals in North and South Dakota; and
•An interliner service connecting both state capitals--in cooperation with Bis-man Transit, River Cities Transit, and Jefferson Lines motor coach company.

Souris Basin Transportation in Minot, North Dakota which provides services to seven (7) rural counties:
•Open to the public but caters to the elderly and people with special needs;
•Close, cooperative effort with nursing homes, assisted living, senior housing complexes and medical services at Minot Air Force Base,  providing over 34,000 rides;
•In a combined effort with the City of Minot Commission on Aging, reduced overhead costs and coordination has led to a 29% increase over individual agency rides.

Focusing Federal rural economic development resources in town and commercial centers can enhance a sense of community while reducing fuel, transportation, and other costs.

While many view community planning and multi-modal transportation as affecting urban or “big city” areas, there are many benefits to small towns and rural areas as well, including:

Strong, well planned town centers can provide easier access to jobs, shopping and medical services;

Increased foot traffic around locally-owned small businesses;

Protects nearby open spaces and valuable farm and ranch land.


Earlier this year the Secretaries of DOT, HUD, and EPA announced a Partnership agreement to help American families in all communities—urban and rural—by   better coordinating  Federal investments for transportation, housing, economic development and environmental protection.

The departments are committed to six guiding principles:
•Providing more transportation choices that decrease household costs, reduce dependency on foreign oil, improve the environment;
•Promoting equitable affordable housing that expand housing location choices to increase mobility and lower housing and transportation costs;
•Enhancing economic competitiveness through reliable access to employment, education & services;
•Supporting existing communities by targeting Federal funding to revitalization efforts in those communities;
•Coordinating policies and investments to remove Federal barriers to effective programs at the local level;
•and Valuing the uniqueness of communities and neighborhoods by investing in safe, healthy, and walkable neighborhoods—urban and rural.

The Partnership is intended to align HUD, DOT, and EPA programs to:
•Encourage integrated planning that addresses livability, affordability, and environmental excellence;
•Engage in joint research and outreach efforts that directly support local communities;
•Knock down government and interdepartmental barriers;
•And most importantly, maximize the benefits of their combined Federal investments in our communities.

You’re going to see new levels of Federal cooperation to help deliver the integrated transportation solutions we need.

Grass-Roots Efforts in the Dakotas

The type of planning and community engagement that we would like to see is already happening here in the Dakotas…like I said earlier – big ideas come from small places!

 The Rural Learning Center
•Started out as a grass-roots effort to develop a new vision and a new future for the small town of Howard in Miner County, South Dakota.
•Now a national resource for other rural communities looking for a sustainable future. 
•Provides a variety of services and resources, including a blog called “ReImagine Rural” for connecting people, with ideas and resources to inspire rural residents to become part of changing their communities.

Design: South Dakota
•Represents a new way to help rural communities in South Dakota create a future through design.
•Cooperative effort by the South Dakota chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Rural Learning Center.
•Organize and conduct three-day planning workshops to engage local residents to design, plan, and develop a sustainable future vision for their communities.

AARP Fargo Summit on Livable Communities
•Hosted by North Dakota State University last year.
•Focus on the unique factors that impact rural residents as they age.
•Addressed questions:  What makes a community livable? What factors are present or missing in Fargo, small towns and rural areas of North Dakota?

These examples demonstrate that livability must  incorporate the concept of collaborative community decision-making, which:
•Gets better results; more community support; and faster and lower cost projects and programs.
•Encourages all of you to become even more engaged with your communities—transit is at the heart of improving livability through mobility.
•Gives new consideration how DOT, HUD, and EPA programs can work together to achieve your communities vision/dream/needs

What all of you do—can and does make a difference.

This Administration wants to do everything to help you make that difference, whether it’s coordinating livability efforts or providing additional funding in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Recovery Act is good news for rural providers: $765 million!

My agency – the FTA – saw an 80 percent spike in our annual funding level – a far higher percentage for transit that was directed to highways or aviation.  The only percentage growth that was higher was the new historic investment in another public transportation investment – the President’s new High Speed Rail program.

When I first came to FTA earlier this summer, we faced a looming deadline – 50 percent by September 1st.  We first thought that we would struggle to reach it.  But instead, we reached it and beat it.  Now at 90 percent.

The Recovery Act is not the only bright spot for rural transit funding: FTA received an annual appropriation of $512 million which is the largest annual appropriation for rural transit ever under SAFETEA-LU.

FTA is also continuing its efforts to improve timely administration of the Job Access and Reverse Commute and New Freedom programs.


Before closing, let me touch on Authorization. . .

As you know, the current authorization for Federal transportation programs—SAFETEA-LU—expires at the end of the month.

The Administration has proposed an 18th month extension while some in Congress have other ideas.

Whatever legislative approach is taken, we think livability needs to be part of  the debate and should consider whether to:

Provide the authority and funding to regions and communities to carry out livability programs in partnership with States;

Improve consideration of land use, energy, the environment and other livability criteria in planning; and

Establish program performance-based criteria focused on livability outcomes.

FTA will continue to work with Congress and our FTA grantees, such as DTA, to ensure transportation needs across the nation are met and residents of your communities enjoy a high quality of life. For us to succeed in these dynamic times it’s crucial that our programs and policies are informed by you – the individuals those programs and policies are meant to serve.

I look forward to working with you in the future and seeing what other innovative ideas come out of the Dakotas!

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today. . . .

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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