Maine Tri-State Conference

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9/29/2011

REMARKS FOR
THERESE MCMILLAN, FTA
MAINE TRI-STATE CONFERENCE
PORTLAND, ME

I’m thrilled to be here with you today. And I’m delighted to be back in New England.

On behalf of Secretary LaHood and Peter Rogoff, I want to thank all of you for your hard work, your expertise, and your leadership in transportation.

We recognize that the last several months have been enormously challenging for you.

You’re wrestling not only with tight budgets, but with Mother Nature, as well.

Hurricane Irene clearly hit much of New England hard in August.

That’s why Secretary LaHood rushed to release millions of dollars in emergency funds to help repair roads, bridges, and other transportation necessities, especially in Vermont, where the damage was greatest.

I hope your states will be made whole again, as quickly as possible.

In light of all that’s happened, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Obama Administration supports the creation of an Emergency Relief Program with sufficient funds to quickly restore transit operations in the wake of a disaster.

This new program would fund the evacuation costs and temporary operating expenses of transit agencies during and after a disaster. We hope that when Congress finally passes a new surface reauthorization bill, this provision will be included. It’s a very important part of strengthening the safety net for transit agencies.

After all, the weather in New England is famously changeable—and as transit operators, you need to be able to respond and recover as soon as possible when disaster strikes.

Speaking of recovery, our primary focus in Washington right now is on economic recovery.

I know you read a lot of doom and gloom in the newspapers.

But the fact is, FTA has so far been able to hold its own.

President Obama understands that investing in transportation is essential to creating jobs, improving access to jobs, and helping us stay competitive with the rest of the world.

In this fiscal year alone, FTA has managed to sustain core funding levels and to continue some important and innovative new initiatives that improve the quality of life and spur economic activity in our communities—urban, suburban, and rural.

For example, we’re making $750 million dollars available this year to help bring our buses and bus facilities into a state of good repair, known as SGR. This is one of our highest priorities at FTA, and New England’s transit agencies stand to benefit from a portion of that investment.

Now more than ever, your riders need to be able to count on a safe, reliable ride to work, to school, to medical care.

At the same time, FTA is working to help you bring your vehicles and facilities into a state of good repair as a way to reduce ongoing maintenance costs, improve fuel efficiency, and get a better handle on your asset management needs going forward.

Last year, our SGR funds helped Chittenden County Transportation in Vermont, for example, to make much-needed upgrades to an aging bus fleet.

We’re also awarding $150 million to ensure that transit buses are a centerpiece of our livability initiative.

This is all about improving mobility and access to jobs and vital services, encouraging more affordable housing near transit hubs, and better coordinating transportation, housing, and commercial investments.

All priorities for New England communities.

And we’re providing a total of nearly $100 million through our Clean Fuels and TIGGER programs to help the transit industry become innovators in clean energy. This in turn means cleaner air and less dependence on costly oil.

Now, we know full well that maintaining this momentum will not be easy in today’s political climate.

We know that you’re deeply concerned about the impact that shrinking state and local budgets have already had—and will continue to have—on your ability to provide a local funding match.

That’s why we think it’s vitally important for Congress to pass the President’s American Jobs Act as soon as possible.

The President’s goal is to put more money in the pockets of working Americans, as we rebuild our roads, bridges, airports, schools, and of course, transit systems.

There are three main components in the President’s proposal:

First, a $50 billion immediate investment in transportation-related construction jobs.

Second, a National Infrastructure Bank, with $10 billion in upfront loan funding for a wide range of critical projects in transportation, water, and energy.

And third, the package directs federal departments and agencies to identify high impact, job-creating infrastructure projects so we can fast-track them through the review and permitting process.

We know there are good projects all across this country just waiting to get started, including right here in Maine.

And we know there are millions of unemployed construction workers looking for jobs.

That’s why the American Jobs Act assigns more funding to DOT—$50 billion—than any other federal department.

A significant slice of that will help to buy new buses and rolling stock, and much-needed repairs for existing rail and bus systems, in urban, suburban, and rural areas around the country.

There’s also $5 billion for jobs on projects selected through a scaled-up TIGER program.

One other bit of welcome news: Up to 10 percent of the transit funds in this package could be used for operating assistance, which our recipients need in these tough times.

Now what’s all this go to do with transit needs in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont?

Plenty.

The Jobs Act would provide, among other things:

  • more than $3.5 million for rural transit in Maine,
  • $2.3 million for rural transit in New Hampshire, and
  • $1.7 million for rural transit in Vermont.

In addition, the President’s proposal, if fully funded, would provide nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to transit providers here in Portland, to bring buses and bus facilities into a state of good repair.

Congress needs to pass this legislation right away, and with good reason: It’s going to create the jobs that people need right now, while building the infrastructure this country needs need for years to come.

But the fact is, we can’t make the American Jobs Act the law of the land without you.

In community after community, transformations are underway because of your tireless efforts – whether making your neighborhoods more livable… or your transit systems
more accessible.

We need you to bring that same commitment to this critical push for the American Jobs Act. We need you not just to join the cause, but to lead it.

If we come together – if we fight to break through the do-nothing status-quo – we can give the American people the transportation choices they demand and deserve.

Now is the time to act.

Thank you.

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