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WTS Annual Conference - San Francisco, CA



“A Federal Transportation Perspective on Winning the Future”

Thank you, Deborah [Dagang.]

I’m thrilled to be here with so many friends and colleagues.

This is a true homecoming for me. My family lives here; I’ve worked here for many years. And I was the fourth president of the San Francisco chapter of Women in Transportation.

I’m so glad to be here today to congratulate my chapter on reaching its 30th anniversary.

That’s an impressive milestone, and it reminds me how long WTS has been a part of my profession and personal life. My career has been enriched and advanced with the support and mentorship of so many WTS members. Just as importantly—especially now that I am in Washington, D.C., my WTS friends here in San Francisco bridge a long, long distance. You keep in touch, and you have cheered my move to work for the Obama Administration. Of all the recognition you have bestowed on me, your continued friendship means the most.

And thank you to those members I have met around the country, who have connected with me immediately—WTS is a large and very strong network!

I strongly encourage all of you to share your wisdom and experience with all the women and men just setting out in our field. Now more than ever, the transportation field needs smart, dedicated people.

And as you’ll hear from Transportation Secretary LaHood this evening, the Department of Transportation, and the Obama Administration, are deeply committed to improving education and training opportunities that will help young women, especially, to embark on transportation careers in fields where they have traditionally been under-represented, such as engineers, air traffic controllers, systems analysts, project managers, and so much more.

Federal Multi-Modal Progress, Priorities

Now, let’s turn to business, and talk about where we’ve been, and where we’re headed, on transportation policy for our nation.

The title of this year’s WTS conference—Building Bridges—is especially appropriate.

As you know, opinions among Washington lawmakers are deeply divided right now over the best ways to close our deficit, reduce spending, and invest our taxpayer dollars wisely, to help America recover from a deep recession and begin creating jobs and opportunities again.

President Obama understands—as we all do at FTA and the Department of Transportation—that this isn’t an “either/or” proposition.

Our nation cannot continue to grow unless we continue to invest in the infrastructure, the technology, the training, and the people that will move our nation forward.

As the President has said, to win the future, we must out-build, out-innovate, and out-educate our competitors.

And thanks to many of you, that’s just what we’re doing -- making historic investments in high-speed rail, transit, and walkable, bikeable streets so that people can choose to drive less, which is good for their health, their wallets and the environment.

At the same time, we are making our highway network smarter and safer with increased emphasis on State of Good Repair of our roads and bridges; congestion management innovations, and the Secretary’s nationwide assault against distracted driving.

We’re accelerating aviation's transition from the radar-based navigation system of the last century to the satellite-based system of the next century, which will dramatically boost fuel economy by allowing aircraft to fly more directly from origin to destination.

We’re encouraging freight carriers to shift products from less to more fuel efficient systems — from air to trucks, from trucks to rail or from rail to maritime. This is essential to achieving President Obama's goal of doubling the United States' exports between 2009 and 2014 — another major job-creator.

We’re making record-setting investments in capital transit projects – from light rail and commuter rail to bus rapid transit and street cars – bringing more clean, efficient, and safe public transportation choices to Americans everywhere.

And earlier this month, the Obama Administration brought America a step closer to developing a truly 21st-century passenger rail system. The President and Secretary LaHood reallocated $2 billion toward a national high-speed rail network, including $795 million for upgrades to existing passenger rail bridges, tracks, and other equipment.

This is very good news for many areas of the country. We’ll boost U.S. manufacturing through a $336.2 million investment in state-of-the-art locomotives and rail cars for California and the Midwest.

And we’ll continue laying the groundwork for the nation’s first 220-mph high-speed rail system in California through a $300 million investment that extends the current 110-mile segment an additional 20 miles to advance completion of the Central Valley project. This is the backbone of the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco corridor.

Toward Energy-Independence

All across America, such investments are paying off by helping our nation reduce its dependence on oil, create good jobs for a new economy, and connect hard-working families with jobs and other vital services.

Right here in San Francisco, for example, Muni, our transit agency, has set a goal to reduce its fleet of greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2009 levels by next year – and to become 100 percent emission-free by 2020.

I’m proud to say that FTA is helping Muni – and many other transit agencies – make similar strides with strategic investments in clean, zero-emission, hybrid buses and other fuel-saving technologies that will power the transit vehicles of the future.

A few hundred miles south of here, in Los Angeles, FTA’s support for, and investments in, cleaner transit system have already helped the LA County MTA achieve an important milestone -- putting a fleet of buses on the streets that’s 100 percent fueled by alternative energy.

These options go a long way to provide relief for millions of Americans struggling to afford gas every week. According to the American Public Transportation Association, riding public transportation saves individuals, on average, $10,116 annually, or $843 a month, compared with driving. This is roughly enough to feed a family of four for a month!

Transportation a Spur to Manufacturing

But our move toward energy independence does something more, too.

It reflects an ambitious strategy to put transportation at the heart of America’s effort to revitalize its manufacturing sector.

We’ll do that not only by making the components that power our vehicles, but also by making and assembling an entirely new generation of streetcars, rail cars, and buses.

This is the path we must pursue to tap American ingenuity and create good jobs for future generations—including future members of WTS.

Buy America

And it means taking a “Buy America” approach to transportation construction – to ensure that transportation projects are built with American-made products. And to ensure that money flows through the supply chain and generates a powerful ripple effect as workers earn and spend their paychecks. It has been an essential part of our Recovery Act and high speed rail programs because it encourages manufacturers to re-open shuttered American plants and to re-hire skilled American workers.

I want to be sure you all know we launched a new Web site a few months ago that improves access to business opportunities in one central location: “www.dot.gov/buyamerica.”

This site will help any American company easily identify if they can fill a particular need of parties who are seeking waivers to Buy America. It will help any American company learn about each of our agencies’ “Buy America” provisions, requirements, and processes. It will enable any American company to subscribe to e-mail alerts that notify them when new information is posted.

This is a big deal. It builds on a tradition of “Buy America” commitments that reaches back to the time when President Lincoln oversaw construction of the transcontinental railroad.

It points to the kind efficiencies that we’ll develop more of as we flesh out the details of President Obama’s vision for the future of America’s transportation system.

We’ve already seen tremendous progress on this front, as more and more American companies find they can, indeed, source 70 or 80 percent or more of their needs with American-made products, especially iron and steel. Interestingly, many European companies seeking to do business in the U.S. understand this concept – and we encourage them to take advantage of our investments in transportation infrastructure, and our talented workforce, by opening up factories and assembly plants here in the U.S.

Looking Ahead—Budget 2012

We know there’s still much to do to get our economy back on track and put more unemployed Americans back to work.

With that said, this is a very exciting time to work in transportation. President Obama has put our industry at the heart of his plan to create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of American workers and businesses.

Consider the President’s budget request for 2012: It seeks a total of $22 billion to improve the condition of our transit assets, expand access to transit around the nation, and increase transit safety.

That’s a proposed increase of $10 billion over our fiscal 2010 funding. It’s a tremendous vote of confidence in our mission—and in the work all of you do so well.

This budget requests $10.7 billion to help transit agencies reduce their backlog of aging equipment and vehicles – a major priority for the Department. Of this amount, $7.5 billion is part of a short-term, up-front $50 billion economic boost, which will ensure that state and local partners realize the benefits of these investments in the early years of the next authorization.

Next year’s budget request also seeks funds to support both rural and urban areas with transit capital investments and – importantly – offers targeted, temporary operating assistance for larger urban transit systems in distress. After all, a parking lot full of transit buses doesn’t help anyone if there aren’t enough funds to hire drivers or to fuel the vehicles.


I know many of you are wondering what’s happening with the next reauthorization for surface transportation programs.

Here’s what I can tell you:

The Administration has shared a set of policy proposals with the appropriate committees in Congress, and a healthy discussion is now under way on how to move forward.

Administrator Peter Rogoff and I are confident that as this process evolves, we’ll have the chance to help make history by boosting our economy, creating jobs, and rebuilding our infrastructure for the 21st century — a win, win, win for all of us.

Obviously, we face challenges on the way to making our vision a reality. But, in the past, transportation policy was one area where members of both parties – Democrats and Republicans -- joined together in the common good.

And let us never forget:

This is America. We don’t do small things. We do big things. We dream big. We build big. And, together, we can and will make this nation’s transportation system the envy of the world once again. Thank you.

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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