Texas Transportation Summit 2007
Remarks: Administrator James S. Simpson, Federal Transit Administration
It is an honor to be here on behalf of President Bush and Secretary Peters. First and foremost, our thoughts are on the tragedy in Minnesota. President Bush has called for a robust federal response, and Secretary Peters has offered Governor Pawlenty and Mayor Rybak her full support and that of the Department in expediting financial and technical assistance.
DOT has been on the ground since day one. Federal Highway Administrator Rick Capka and FTA Deputy Administrator Sherry Little are in Minneapolis and will stay there to provide assistance to Minnesota for as long as is needed.
We are absolutely committed to helping Minneapolis recover and rebuild. We are equally committed to ensuring that America’s bridges are safe. This is clearly on the minds of people here in Texas, the state that leads the nation in the number of bridges on its public highways, roads and streets.
Secretary Peters asked me to convey her appreciation for quick response to her request for re-inspecting Texas’s eight bridges similar in construction to the steel truss arch bridge that failed in Minneapolis. While we work to understand fully what happened in Minnesota, it is important to act with an abundance of caution to ensure the safety of our roads and bridges.
This tragic incident in Minneapolis highlights the need to refocus on what our national transportation priorities are – not scattered pet projects, but the construction and maintenance of our highway system so vital to both our freedom and our economic prosperity.
So, there is no better time to have a Transportation Conference like this, and no better place to have it than here in Texas. Many of you already know that in comparison to economies around the world, the Lone Star State would rank as the 10th largest. The economy of this state, which is largely based on commerce, requires a great deal of movement of goods by trucks. When these trucks are slowed down as a result of congestion, that costs money. Congestion costs the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area alone over $2.5 billion a year and that number is only going up.
As a former business owner in the motor carrier industry, I experienced first-hand the economic and social costs associated with traffic congestion. At my Staten Island, New York, facility… a mere 15 miles from mid-town Manhattan… my vehicles and employees wasted over 4 hours a day traveling from their depot to their job site during the morning and evening rush on Interstate 278, a trip that is normally only a half hour each way off-peak. (50 percent workday travel time)
The 2007 Economic Report of the President, highlights the strong connection between transportation and the continued health of the U.S. economy. And it also discusses, for the first time ever, how the mounting costs of congestion are a growing problem not only for commuters, but for corporations and businesses alike.
On the U.S.-Canadian border, delays on Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge cost motor carriers between 150 and 200 million dollars a year.
In Atlanta, a pet food company that 15 years ago had 11 trucks making 20 deliveries a day has nearly doubled its fleet to 20 vehicles.
Unfortunately, today’s traffic hinders the larger fleet, causing it to have the same overall productivity as 15 years ago at two times the cost. In Dallas-Fort Worth, the average commuter spends 60 hours a year in traffic beyond their normal commute time.
All told, traffic congestion costs our businesses billions of dollars each year in wasted time and fuel. If you add schedule changes, buffer time requirements, substitute deliveries, and lost customers, the costs become staggering.
We also are seeing the toll congestion is taking on our personal lives. A recent study in the Washington, D.C., area revealed that congestion causes parents to miss at least one event per week with their children. A special health report in Forbes Magazine divulged that long commutes can lead to loss of short-term memory and such ailments as higher blood pressure, muscle tension and an accelerated heart rate.
The U.S. Department of Transportation refuses to accept congestion as a fact of life, or as just another cost of doing business. It is time for all Americans to do the same. The status quo is not working for our families, or our future, and it is threatening our freedom. Despite a 240 percent increase in federal transportation spending over the last 25 years, congestion has nearly tripled in metropolitan regions around the United States. In Secretary Peters words, “It is time to think boldly. We must develop 21st century solutions for 21st century problems.”
For many years, most of transportation in America has been government-planned, government-funded, and government-maintained. As you know, this is not the traditional approach to American business or industry. All transportation is like a business. And, perhaps if we apply business solutions, we might just be amazed at how it can once again become a source of freedom, rather than a source of frustration.
Today’s challenges require us to rethink traditional tactics, as you are doing here in Texas. Allowing the private sector to play a bigger role in funding, building, and managing transportation is one of the most promising options available to all of us.
We have heard a lot about the private sector infusing much-needed capital into our transportation network. This pool of potential resources becomes more and more attractive as state budgets are stretched thin and gasoline taxes become increasingly unsustainable as long-term sources of funding.
Of course, involving the private sector in transportation is about more than finding new sources of money. It is about promoting accountability and letting the free market deliver to transportation the innovation, cost savings, and quality it has delivered in other industries. As our needs continue to grow and public revenue continues to slow, it is an idea whose time has come.
An external audit of the Texas Department of Transportation suggested that Texas needs more toll roads and drivers need to pay more to use them in order to keep Texans on the move. At the U.S. Department of Transportation, we believe it makes good sense to be able to charge the people who use our roads directly. Further, tolling provides flexibility to tap into the billions of dollars the private sector has to invest in transportation, and user fees are a proven congestion buster.
With today’s technology, we do not need to build a single additional toll booth in America; sensors and transponders can do the work. With technology, we can even adjust the prices on a road regularly to ensure that it never becomes congested.
This is not a radical concept. We pay for electricity, water, and phone service directly through a monthly bill based on the amount we consume. In many cases, variations in price are even based upon peak and non-peak usage. The technology and private capital available right now can transform transportation in America.
The Department’s Congestion Relief Initiative is already helping tap this potential and lead us to the transportation system of tomorrow. We are currently reviewing proposals from cities that stepped forward to pioneer cutting-edge antidotes to urban congestion and creative “Corridors of the Future” concepts to keep traffic moving on key trade and travel routes.
As the Administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, I believe that a robust public transit system can help mitigate highway congestion, lower travel time, and increase productivity and profitability for our nation’s businesses and individuals alike. The Bush Administration has already invested record amounts of money in public transportation. So, now we are building light rail systems in cities that have been built around automobile ownership, such as Denver, Phoenix, Dallas and Irving too!
Under Secretary Peter’s strong leadership, we are committed to continuing to clear the federal roadblocks, and listening to the ideas developed by the state and local governments – where innovation in America has always originated.