The Silicon Valley Leadership Group – Santa Clara, CA
Thank you so much, Todd. Let me just say on behalf of President Obama and Secretary LaHood, that we are thrilled to deliver $900 million in tax dollars from Silicon Valley back to the Silicon Valley.
One of the things we commonly say at the U.S. Department of Transportation is, when it comes to the really ambitious projects, most of them have not dozens but maybe hundreds of near-death experiences, and this project certainly has had its share of near-death experiences. But the reason why we are finally breaking ground today has been a story of persistence. Certainly patience, but also persistence.
It’s been the patience and persistence of the voters of this region, who have voted not only once but twice to put up their own dollars to make BART service to Silicon Valley a reality. It’s also been the persistence of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. I’ve had the benefit of working on this honest project, not just in my current position but in my prior position heading up the staff of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee for several years. I remember meeting with Mayor Gonzales about this project many years ago.
But the persistence of the Silicon Valley Business Group that has come and visited us every year consistently has seen to it that this project never fell off anyone’s radar screen. It also has to do with the persistence of your congressional delegation. But perhaps most importantly, a very treasured member of the Appropriations Committee, Dianne Feinstein.
One thing I’ve always pointed out: people may bemoan the fact that a state as large as California only has two senators, but my lord, they’re not shrinking violets. And they don’t hang back when it comes to articulating the needs and the long overdue balance of funding that needs to come in when you’re talking about things like transit investments in areas as congested as this region. And Dianne Feinstein has been beyond the leading spokesperson on this for well over a decade now. It’s taken this long.
Let me just tell you something as business people that you already know, and that is it’s not enough to just make your initial investment. Especially in this region, people know that in order to be on the cutting edge, in order to be innovative, you must continue to reinvest.
So is today a day to celebrate? Absolutely! We’re finally going to extend BART down to Berryessa and San Jose. But let me caution all of you to keep your eye on the ball. The BART service that we are extending down here is currently running the oldest railcars in the United States. They are currently 40 years old. By the time we replace them, they’re going to be 50 years old.
I spent yesterday down in Hayward at a BART rail rehabilitation plant. They are working miracles to keep those railcars on the road, a lot of it coming from very innovative ideas from the maintenance employees themselves. But this region as a region needs to stay focused not just on expansion but on reinvesting on the service we’ve got.
President Obama’s strategy for dealing with oil prices is an all-of-the-above strategy. And in addition to further exploration for oil and gas, investments in wind and solar, giving Americans a reliable transit option is critical to the all-of-the-above strategy. But for people to use that transit option, the transit needs to be reliable and desirable. And if we don’t reinvest in the existing infrastructure and only focus on expansion, we’re going to lose that opportunity. We’re going to lose that reliability and desirability and we will re-congest the highways with people whose transit trip is just not reliable.
So let me encourage you, now that we are getting BART down here, to use your leadership skills and your voice as a community to bringing to bear on Congress on the need for long-term transportation bill that reinvests in our transportation network and reinvest in keeping our transportation system safe and reliable.
Your other senator, the other shrinking violet, Barbara Boxer, just concluded many weeks on the floor getting a bipartisan transportation bill off the Senate floor with 74 votes. She joined forces with a senator with as different political philosophy as Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma to come together in a bipartisan way to move our country forward.
That is the kind of bipartisanship that Secretary Mineta and I were promoting this morning that has been absent far too much in this Congress. President Obama needs Democrats and Republicans to join together to make the necessary investments and we need your help in convincing Congress to do so.
Thanks again for having me. Today’s a great day to celebrate. Let’s keep our eye on reinvesting in the systems we have. Thanks very much.