Opening Remarks at the Kansas City Training Meeting


03-23-10

Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan
Opening Remarks at the Kansas City Region VII Training Meeting

Thank you for that introduction Mokhtee.

And I want to thank the FTA Region VII staff and Pat Weaver of the Kansas University Training Center for their hard work in putting this event together.

I’m delighted to be here in the Midwest or as Mokhtee likes to refer to it as the “MINK” (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas) Region” on behalf of President Obama and Secretary LaHood. 

This tri-annual meeting provides you, our urban and rural grantees the opportunity to have face-to-face training on FTA programs and initiatives.  It is also an opportunity for you to meet, network and exchange ideas with one other. 

Before I began I want to recognize Ron Straight, Transportation Manager, for the Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas, Inc.

He is retiring after 20 years in the trucking industry and over 19 years in public transportation.  In addition, I understand that he also serves as his State’s representative for the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). 

Ron, I know you probably have plans to take a little time off to relax and enjoy your family, but if you get bored I know we could use your 30+ years of transportation experience at the USDOT headquarters in Washington, DC.

Speaking of USDOT, I want to begin by saying what an exciting time it is to be in the world of transportation, especially those of you here in the Midwest.

Many of you opened your mailbox last Monday hoping to find your federal income tax return (pause for laughter) but instead, found an envelope from the U.S. Census Bureau.

As much as we all could use a little extra money right now, the census survey is just as important as any refund you may get and you will actually see the return on this investment for years and years to come.

In addition to determining the number of seats Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas will occupy in the U.S. House of Representatives, the data collected will assist determining where to build schools, hospitals and other community services.

But for those of us in the business of moving people, the census is even more important. 

It will influence how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year will be spent on infrastructure and essential services like public transportation, bridges, tunnels, and other public emergency services.

When you do the math, it’s easy to see what an accurate count of residents can do for your community. 

BETTER INFRASTRUCTURE.
MORE SERVICES.
A BRIGHTER TOMORROW.

Speaking of tomorrow…let me share the vision for transportation in the coming years.

The USDOT’s FY2011 Budget requests a total of $79 million, a nearly $2 billion or 2% increase in funding. 

The requests target the Administration’s three key priorities:  

  1. improving transportation safety
  2. investing for the future and
  3. promoting livable communities. 

In FY2011, FTA proposes to restructure its programs and accounts to reflect the Administration’s commitment to strengthen public transportation safety oversight, bring bus and rail transportation infrastructure to a state of good repair, provide increased mobility and livability in local communities and protect the environment.

Tomorrow, FTA’s resident Budget and Policy “guru” Bob Tuccillo will be your luncheon speaker.  He will provide a more in-depth look into the proposed budget and what the future of transit programs may look like as a result of the new budget.

As I said earlier, fostering “livable communities” is a key aspect of President Obama’s budget, an aspect that we see is alive and well in America’s heartland.

Livability Lives in the Midwest 

Over the past 50 years, public officials and urban planners developed our communities around the automobile at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists, and most importantly the environment.

Now, the agenda has shifted and new policies and initiatives govern the direction of growth of our rural and urban communities.

This Administration is about ACTION and taking action is exactly what Secretary LaHood did when he arrived in Kansas City last month to announce $1.5 billion in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants, including $50 million for the Kansas City region alone.

The grants were funded by federal stimulus dollars as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

There is no better project that highlights the positive effect that ARRA is making here on Main Street than the Green Impact Zone in Kansas City, Missouri.

What a phenomenal demonstration of the possibilities becoming reality when government officials and stakeholders partner with the community in an effort to concentrate resources for the greater good. 

This project has become a national model of how a federal investment will assist a community in an economic decline and transform the same 150 square blocks into a thriving, sustainable neighborhood.

The $26.2 million economic investment in the Green Impact Zone will pay for improvements to sidewalks, curbs, streets, streetscapes and transit facilities. 

Funding will also be used for housing rehabilitation, weatherization programs, job training and placement and health and wellness programs.

This is a clear indication of how transit is playing a key role in livability in the Nation and specifically here in the MINK region.

However, the one thing this Administration has learned is that transit is just one piece to a much larger puzzle and by itself, cannot effectively change and reshape people’s lives.

Sustainable Communities Partnership

That is why in 2009 Secretaries of DOT, HUD, and EPA announced a Sustainable Communities 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:

  1. Providing more transportation choices that decrease household costs, reduce dependency on foreign oil, improve the environment;
  2. Promoting equitable affordable housing that expand housing location choices to increase mobility and lower housing and transportation costs;
  3. Enhancing economic competitiveness through reliable access to employment, education & services;
  4. Supporting existing communities by targeting Federal funding to revitalization efforts in those communities;
  5. Coordinating policies and investments to remove Federal barriers to effective programs at the local level; and
  6. Valuing the uniqueness of communities and neighborhoods by investing in safe, healthy, and walkable neighborhoods—urban and rural.

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

As a result of this partnership, EPA, HUD, and DOT selected Iowa City, Iowa to be one of five sustainable community pilot projects in the United States. 

EPA awarded the grant for this project to ensure that housing and transportation goals are met while simultaneously protecting the environment, promoting equitable development, and helping to address the challenges of climate change

In Region VII, the FTA Regional Office, HUD and EPA have already begun working together to move forward this most important initiative. 

On Thursday, there will be a plenary session led by FTA’s Regional Administrator and regional representatives of HUD and EPA.

I hope that many of you will be able to attend this session. It will provide an in-depth overview of the partnership and allow you to see the new levels of Federal cooperation that have will help deliver the integrated transportation solutions that is needed.

So, the planning and community engagement that the Administration is encouraging throughout the U.S. is already happening here in the Midwest…

These examples in Iowa and Kansas City demonstrate that livability must  incorporate the concept of collaborative community decision-making, which:

Gets better results; more community support; and faster and lower cost projects and programs.

Encourages all of you to become even more engaged with your communities—transit is at the heart of improving livability through mobility.

Gives new consideration how DOT, HUD, and EPA programs can work together to achieve your communities vision/dream/needs

The role that each of us plays in ensuring the concept continues will make a huge difference in the success or failure of the streets and neighborhoods in our own back yards.   Together we are making a difference.

And this Administration wants to do everything we can 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 (ARRA).

ARRA

With the on-set of ARRA my agency – the FTA – saw an 80 percent spike in our annual funding level – a far higher percentage for transit than 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.

ARRA has helped change the look and feel of transportation across the nation.

To date stimulus funds have allowed for the purchase of 12,000 buses, vans and rail vehicles; helped construct or renovate more than 850 transit facilities and provided more than $620 million in preventive maintenance. 

And two weeks ago, FTA reached our goal of 100% ARRA obligation.

For us, that means we have awarded over 933 grants totaling $8.3 billion.  Those projects, in turn, have created enough work to keep 9,838 people employed for a year. (Note: This is based on money expended as of the 1201 report due in February – and not the total obligations amount).

In Region VII, ARRA provided funding for over 201 buses in urban systems and 569 buses and vans in rural areas in the four state regions.  This funding is going to build 3 urban and 16 rural transit facilities.  Rural operators in Nebraska for the first time are building 9 facilities and will now be able to store their vehicles indoors outside of the elements. 

In rural Missouri, ARRA funding will allow Bill Osborne and his team at the Southeast Missouri Transportation Service (SMTS) to build a new facility in Poplar Bluff.

This project will create 30-40 jobs alone in an economically distressed area. 

ARRA Tribal funds are also being used to build a facility for the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska. 

On the urban side we have new facilities being built in Wichita, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri.

In Iowa, a state with extreme bus replacement needs, the ARRA funds, coupled with FFY09’s 5309 funds for bus replacement, allowed the Iowa DOT to procure 268 vehicles reducing the percentage of vehicles which have exceeded their useful life from 60% to 41%.

ARRA TIGER funds will also be used to build a new intermodal transportation facility in Ames, Iowa.

Another $20.8 million will be used to fund transit corridors in four counties in the Kansas City metropolitan area including the State Avenue Corridor, North Oak, U.S. 24, U.S. 40 and the Metcalf/Shawnee Mission Parkway corridors which will greatly enhance the mobility of transit riders in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

As I stated before, FTA is committed to the principals of creating a more livable and sustainable environment. 

ARRA TIGGER will assist CY-RIDE in Ames, Iowa to upgrade their fleet to hybrid buses

In Rock Island Metropolitan Mass Transit District in Rock Island, Illinois, they will now be able to install solar thermal panels on their new facility. 

Now, as excited as this all sounds, you don’t think Uncle Sam was going to hand over a check without making sure the American citizens know where their money is going do you.

Of course not, and as many of you know from our reporting process, all of this ARRA funding comes with a big responsibility. 

As grantees, you are expected to deliver your projects on time, on budget and on schedule. 

How we spend and administer these funds is under scrutiny from the American public and public interest and political groups everywhere.  With this amount of funding also comes the opportunity for waste, fraud and abuse. 

And at tomorrow’s session you will hear from Mark Peters from the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General’s Office in Chicago on this very subject.

The Recovery Act is not the only bright spot for 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.  David Schneider of my staff will be speaking more on this subject Thursday.

As you can tell from my remarks, the Region VII office has put together a dynamic program that includes speakers and topics from a variety of new initiatives.

New Starts

Speaking of the new initiatives, you talked and we listened. 

Peter and I have decided to take a very good look at the New Starts/Small Starts Program to determine areas where we can improve.

 On this front, FTA plans on seeking additional input from the transit industry regarding the New Starts project rating process. 

We will want to hear from you, our grantees so soon we will be seeking your input on certain New Starts and Small Starts project rating process.

Authorization

Before closing, let me touch on Authorization. . .

One week ago today, Congress passed an extension to FTA’s authorizing legislation, SAFETEA-LU, through December 31, 2010. 

The good news is that with this passage FTA will be able to make the full amount of your FY2010 formula funds available for application.

There has been talk of new funds for transportation infrastructure as part of a “jobs” bill to further stimulate the economy, and momentum has been building for Congress to enact a “jobs” bill in response to the unemployment numbers. 

Thank you for submitting your applications for our Bus Livability and Urban Circulators discretionary funding. 

My team is reviewing your applications and will be making announcements in the near future.  In addition, FTA has over $1 billion in bus discretionary funds and we will soon be publishing a Notice of Funding Availability for capital projects.  

We know there are many unmet capital needs and we encourage you to submit an application.

The FTA is committed to working with transit operators across the country to improve your fleets and facilities to a State of Good Repair.

This brings me to another major FTA initiative.

As you know, in December 2009 Secretary LaHood put before Congress the Administration’s Public Transportation Safety Program Act of 2009, a new transit safety bill to ensure a high and standard level of safety across all rail transit systems and an option to establish a safety program for public transportation bus systems.

FTA will continue to work with Congress and our FTA grantees in the MINK region 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 great Midwest!

Thank you!