Opening Remarks at Dakota Transit Association Annual Meeting


09-21-09

Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan
Dakota Transit Association Annual Meeting
Opening Remarks
Fargo, ND

Thank you for that introduction Barb (Cline).

And I want to thank the planning committee and the DTA Board for their hard work in putting this event together.

I’m delighted to be here on behalf of President Obama and Secretary LaHood for Dakota Transit Association’s (DTA) 25th Anniversary.

DTA’s long-term success is a result of dedicated, hard-working employees.

I was told we have two transit professionals in the audience who have been with DTA for all of its 25 years – Brenda Paradis of Mitchell, South Dakota  and Carol Seurer of Sisseton, South Dakota. 

Brenda’s system has the 2009 South Dakota Dispatcher of the Year and Carol’s system is the 2009 South Dakota Innovative Agency of the Year.

Brenda and Carol, I can’t thank you enough for all your hard work and your commitment to DTA.

This is my first time visiting the Dakotas. Though your transit systems may be smaller than the New Yorks and San Franciscos of this world, they are no less important to the livability of your communities.

President Obama has made livable communities a key aspect of his agenda.

Livable communities are safe communities; communities that provide a strong economic base for their citizens; provide housing and transportation choices for residents with various needs; and are sustainable from an environmental perspective.

Expect to see livable communities as a centerpiece of the upcoming transportation authorization legislation and as elements of new Department of Transportation programs and policies.

The era of one-size-fits-all transportation projects must give way to an approach that preserves and enhances unique community characteristics – be they urban or rural.

Rural Livability

Transportation that provides reliable, safe access to jobs, education, health care and services is every bit as important to rural areas as urban areas.

More remote locations in rural areas do present unique challenges but the livability of our rural communities is enhanced when:

Not only is transit already playing a key role in the livability of the Dakotas, there are some big, creative ideas coming from these smaller communities.

Prairie Hills Transit in Spearfish, South Dakota is a great example of creative coordination of transit with other valuable community services:

FTA encourages innovative transit investments such as this that support broader social and economic development goals.

Standing Rock Public Transportation in North Dakota which has provided service for over 20 years (Sept 1 was the anniversary “Transit Day” celebration) to 14 tribal communities spread over two states and four counties:

Souris Basin Transportation in Minot, North Dakota which provides services to seven (7) rural counties:

Focusing Federal rural economic development resources in town and commercial centers can enhance a sense of community while reducing fuel, transportation, and other costs.

While many view community planning and multi-modal transportation as affecting urban or “big city” areas, there are many benefits to small towns and rural areas as well, including:

Strong, well planned town centers can provide easier access to jobs, shopping and medical services;

Increased foot traffic around locally-owned small businesses;

Protects nearby open spaces and valuable farm and ranch land.

Partnership

Earlier this year the Secretaries of DOT, HUD, and EPA announced a Partnership agreement to help American families in all communities—urban and rural—by   better coordinating  Federal investments for transportation, housing, economic development and environmental protection.

The departments are committed to six guiding principles:

The Partnership is intended to align HUD, DOT, and EPA programs to:

You’re going to see new levels of Federal cooperation to help deliver the integrated transportation solutions we need.

Grass-Roots Efforts in the Dakotas

The type of planning and community engagement that we would like to see is already happening here in the Dakotas…like I said earlier – big ideas come from small places!


The Rural Learning Center

Design: South Dakota

AARP Fargo Summit on Livable Communities

These examples demonstrate that livability must  incorporate the concept of collaborative community decision-making, which:

What all of you do—can and does make a difference.

This Administration wants to do everything to help you make that difference, whether it’s coordinating livability efforts or providing additional funding in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Recovery Act is good news for rural providers: $765 million!

My agency – the FTA – saw an 80 percent spike in our annual funding level – a far higher percentage for transit that was directed to highways or aviation.  The only percentage growth that was higher was the new historic investment in another public transportation investment – the President’s new High Speed Rail program.

When I first came to FTA earlier this summer, we faced a looming deadline – 50 percent by September 1st.  We first thought that we would struggle to reach it.  But instead, we reached it and beat it.  Now at 90 percent.

The Recovery Act is not the only bright spot for rural transit funding: FTA received an annual appropriation of $512 million which is the largest annual appropriation for rural transit ever under SAFETEA-LU.

FTA is also continuing its efforts to improve timely administration of the Job Access and Reverse Commute and New Freedom programs.

Authorization

Before closing, let me touch on Authorization. . .

As you know, the current authorization for Federal transportation programs—SAFETEA-LU—expires at the end of the month.

The Administration has proposed an 18th month extension while some in Congress have other ideas.

Whatever legislative approach is taken, we think livability needs to be part of  the debate and should consider whether to:

Provide the authority and funding to regions and communities to carry out livability programs in partnership with States;

Improve consideration of land use, energy, the environment and other livability criteria in planning; and

Establish program performance-based criteria focused on livability outcomes.

FTA will continue to work with Congress and our FTA grantees, such as DTA, to ensure transportation needs across the nation are met and residents of your communities enjoy a high quality of life. For us to succeed in these dynamic times it’s crucial that our programs and policies are informed by you – the individuals those programs and policies are meant to serve.

I look forward to working with you in the future and seeing what other innovative ideas come out of the Dakotas!

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today. . . .