Alaska Community Transportation Transit Conference

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Remarks for Therese McMillan, FTA

10/25/2011

On behalf of Secretary LaHood and Administrator Peter Rogoff, I’m delighted to join you today.

This is my second visit to Alaska, and I’m excited to be back.

In this state, perhaps more than any other, access to safe, reliable, affordable public transportation truly means the difference between working and not working. . . between getting an education, or vital medical attention, and missing out. . . and on occasion, between life and death itself.

I want to thank and commend all of you, for everything you do to plan, manage, and deliver transportation services to Alaska’s cities, rural communities, and tribal villages, often under challenging conditions.

We at FTA are proud to be your partners as we work together to improve transportation choices state-wide.

Together, we’re modernizing and improving the safety of Alaska’s railways, and spurring economic development with projects like the Ship Creek Intermodal Transportation Center.

Over 20 of Alaska’s tribal groups have also applied for and received FTA funds. My colleague Linda Gehrke will discuss our tribal transit programs later today. I hope you’ll attend that session.

I’m also encouraged to see that Governor Parnell’s Coordinated Transportation Task Force has been so productive.

This is a worthwhile effort to take a fresh look at how best to coordinate cost-effective and efficient community-based transportation to Alaska residents who depend on transit the most – including seniors, people with disabilities, low-income families, and tribes.

We’ve appointed our regional administrator, Rick Krochalis, to serve as an ex-officio member on the task force along with our partners from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I applaud the Task Force’s recommendation to the legislature and the Governor, seeking to increase state funds dedicated for transit.

And I want to thank those of you here today who belong to the task force for your outstanding work on behalf of so many transit riders.

I’m sure you’ll agree that even in tough times like these, we cannot afford to neglect helping people who need to access jobs, medical care, and other vital services – and who wish to live as independently as possible, for as long as possible.

We fully support efforts to better coordinate transportation for these populations. . . which is why I look forward to visiting People Mover’s Transit Training Center tomorrow, where these goals are put into practice every day. This is a project we were happy to help fund.

Now I’d like to share a perspective from Washington on the direction of transportation in this country.

Earlier this month, FTA announced nearly 300 competitive discretionary grants totaling more than $900 million for an array of transit projects around the country to repair and modernize our bus fleets and bus facilities.

These projects go a long way to support more livable communities, while helping to bring more of our aging transit systems into a state of good repair.

I’m pleased to see that Alaska competed successfully for one of these grants, bringing home $2.4 million to replacing an aging, leaking, poorly insulated roof on People Mover’s bus maintenance facility here in Anchorage.

It’s absolutely vital that we keep this momentum going.

We reviewed well over 800 project applications representing nearly $5 billion in funding requests for this latest round of grants. So we know there’s real pent-up demand for more and better transit service.

That’s why we’re asking Congress to pass the transportation portion of the American Jobs Act, as soon as possible.

It’s a bill that will put more people to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans. It will provide our economy with the jolt that it really needs right now.

And it will allow us to invest in more good transportation projects like the People Move project here.

We all know what’s at stake: Putting people back to work. Restoring economic security for the middle class. Rebuilding an economy where hard work is valued and responsibility is rewarded – an economy that’s built to last.

It’s worth noting that the President’s proposed jobs bill includes $9 billion in additional funds for FTA, so we can put Americans to work improving our service, shoring up our reliability, avoiding service reductions, and avoiding layoffs.

That’s a tremendous vote a confidence for us – and for you, as the ultimate stewards of these funds.

Whatever Congress comes up with in the next surface transportation bill, we can take pride in the fact that this President, and this Administration, understand the importance of investing in transportation infrastructure to grow America’s economy – and creating thousands of new jobs in the process.

Now let me share something else we’re working on that matters to all of you -- environmental justice.

FTA is in the middle of a campaign to confirm the importance of – and clarify the implementation of – how you determine the impact that federally funded transportation projects have on minority and low-income communities – a population that includes Alaska’s tribal villages.

Over the last 15 years, FTA’s guidance on environmental justice has boiled down to less than a single page buried in our Title VI Civil Rights circular.

This has caused considerable confusion and frustration on the part of our grantees—and frankly, our staff as well.

So we’ve drafted a brand new Environmental Justice circular.

It proposes new guidance on how FTA’s grant recipients could incorporate principles of environmental justice into all aspects of their transit operations—from planning to project construction to service delivery.

We also drafted a revised, updated Title VI circular.

Both proposed rulemakings were published in the Federal Register on September 29th. You can find them online at FTA’s website.

I strongly urge you to work with your colleagues to review these proposals and post comments to the docket, so that we may take all views into account for a final rulemaking.

This isn’t about creating new regulations or requirements.

It’s about clarifying what’s already required by law, and drawing a sharper distinction between the Title VI requirements and our proposed Environmental Justice guidance.

Title VI and EJ are equally important considerations when planning and designing federally funded transportation projects. Decisions in these areas directly affect the quality of life wherever transit is built or enhanced.

This certainly has a bearing in Alaska, and we want all of you to understand these responsibilities fully—which is why we’re going to great lengths to clarify them.

In closing, I want to urge all of you to help us make the case that this is not the time to cut spending for the infrastructure this country needs to compete and build an economy for the 21st century.

This is no time to sit on the sidelines.

If the President of the United States can go before your Congressman and your Senators and make the case for investment in public transit, surely you can do the same thing.

Thank you so much.

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