FHWA-FTA Planners Seminar - Washington, DC



JULY 22, 2008

On behalf of President Bush and Transportation Secretary Peters, welcome, everyone, to our biennial joint planning seminar.

I’m delighted to be here with all of you, and my FHWA counterpart, Mary Phillips.

Y’all are very lucky to have Mary. . . She brings a load of experience from the trucking industry. .  She has earned some battle scars from working on transportation issues for the Senate Commerce Committee . . . As a former Senate Banking Committee staffer, I can relate to that. . .  And she’s done a terrific job coordinating complex highway funding issues.

You know, DOT has sometimes been criticized for being too “stove-piped.”

This joint event is a great antidote to that. . .   There’s always real synergy when our two agencies get together. . .

Planning, as you well know, can be a very tricky business.

It is not unlike trying to look through the windshield of your car while glancing in the rear-view mirror at the same time. . .  The future has a habit of catching up with us.

As the quality guru Phillip Crosby once said,

“If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.”
I think that’s our challenge in a nutshell: To make our very best, most educated guesses, about what tomorrow will bring – and then prepare for it. . . . And because we never run out of tomorrows, we must do this continuously. . .

I know I’ve learned a great deal about the value of good planning, over the last several years. . .

When I served on the Senate Banking Committee, writing the SAFETEA legislation was a huge exercise in planning. . . . I tried to anticipate which tools FTA and the transit industry would need most in the months and years ahead. . . and then create a legislative framework that would help turn that plan into a reality. . . .

It’s been enormously fun and challenging to come to FTA and help to implement these planning policies. . .

Take cost-and-ridership, for example. . .  It’s a classic case of transit agencies that want federal funding, needing reliable, accurate information in order to make a plan that can help them deal with whatever lies ahead.

FTA’s capital transit grantees typically over-estimate ridership forecasts, and under-estimate project costs. . . 

So for a long time, FTA wasn’t sure whether grantees were making accurate forecasts. . . which means it was difficult to know whether the right investment decisions were being made.

It’s difficult to plan well, on that basis.

So we wrote several provisions into SAFETEA to improve New Starts cost and ridership estimates, collect more cost data, study contractor performance, and develop before-and-after studies of New Starts projects.

While there’s still room for improvement, these changes to the planning process have produced real results:  The industry’s ability to accurately predict ridership is almost twice as good now as it was in 1990.

SAFETEA also created FTA’s Small Starts program. . . These are low cost transit projects that qualify for a highly simplified project evaluation and rating process by FTA. . .

The Small Starts program provides incentives for communities to plan smaller, lower cost projects to meet their transportation needs and not have to compete with “big projects” for limited New Starts funding. . .

This, in turn, offers communities greater flexibility to consider a wide range of transit alternatives – such as bus rapid transit.
I’ve also learned the value of making planning an inclusive process. . .

It’s not enough just to draw up plans within you own agency. . . You’ve got to look at the bigger picture. . .
Our experience with DOT’s Urban Partnership initiative has taught us this. . .

About a year ago, Rick Kapka  --  who was then the FWHA Administrator  --  and I, had the good fortune to sit down together and hear the same presentation about how to solve the congestion problem. . .

The solution wasn’t about transit. . .  it wasn’t about highways. . . it was about planning a multi-modal approach. . .  
We’re getting better at this. . .  but I think we can all agree that the next authorization for federal surface transportation programs presents us with an enormous set of challenges. . . .  Smart planning is critical to ensuring that our agencies – and the American public  -- ultimately get a new legislative framework that strengthens and enhances our transportation infrastructure in key ways.

Good planning translates into good policy. . .  and good policy is all about anticipating needs  -- for resources, programs, people, and technology.

This week, y’all get a rare opportunity to act as if the future were going to hold still for a moment or two, while you share and explore many of the common challenges and opportunities that FTA and FHWA are facing.

I think you’re asking all the right questions this week, such as:
• How do we factor global climate change goals into the planning process?
• How can we grow transit services to help offset greenhouse gas emissions?
• How can FHWA and FTA work together to facilitate compact land use and development?
• What type of planning is needed to better coordinate transit services on federal lands?
• How can FHWA and FTA improve their forecasting ability, to better guide investments in transportation?
And how can we at DOT ensure that our transit-dependent populations  --  including older Americans and low-income families – have access to the services they need, and the mobility they deserve?

These are all issues that our experts from FTA are going to discuss with y’all.

As you tackle these questions, and others, I would ask you not to lose sight of a couple of key ideas. . .

First, always link planning with measurable outcomes. . .  If you plan to make the case to Congress for resources, it helps to be able to demonstrate measurable results. . .  Remember: If you can’t measure, you can’t manage. . . and if you can’t manage, you certainly can’t plan.

Second, look for new ways to enhance inter-agency cooperation between FHWA and FTA.

Our modes may differ, but our goals are similar and we’re heading in the same direction. . .  to combat congestion, improve mobility, and leverage private-sector resources to enhance public transportation infrastructure. And, our customers deserve to have reasonable, consistent, and timely support from us.

Finally, I want to leave you with a thought from the futurist Alvin Toffler, who wrote:

“The responsibility for change…lies with us. We must begin with ourselves, teaching ourselves not to close our minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical. This means fighting off the idea-assassins who rush forward to kill any new suggestion on grounds of its impracticality, while defending whatever now exists as practical….” 

Thank you.