Mineta speaks

News American Road & Transportation Builders Association March 29, 2001
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"I'd like to extend to all of you my best wishes on ARTBA's 100th anniversary celebration next year

"I'd like to extend to all of you my best wishes on ARTBA's 100th anniversary celebration next year. Your association has been in the forefront of the discussions on important transportation issues for a century and I congratulate you for that.

"ARTBA's leadership deserves great credit for helping to bring about the higher transportation funding levels we have achieved during the past few years. By bringing together many parts of the transportation community in the Transportation Construction Coalition, you helped create a unified voice that was heard during the debate on the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21).

"ARTBA chaired the Alliance for Truth in Transportation Budgeting, which helped reach a goal that had been sought by many of us for many years--the guaranteed investment of highway and aviation trust fund money in transportation--and I thank you for your work on that issue.

"I am pleased that President Bush has proposed to fully fund the highway and transit programs in TEA-21 at the guaranteed levels. That will mean $32.3 billion for highways and highway safety, $2.1 billion more than in 2001, and $6.7 billion for transit, $486 million above last year's level.

"The President's budget also recognizes the aviation capacity problem. He proposed to fully fund the authorized levels for airport grants in AIR-21. Airport grants would total $3.3 billion and overall aviation spending would be 6% higher than in 2001.

"And, as we look to the future, I'd like to commend you for preparing so quickly for TEA-21 reauthorization. I am looking forward to seeing the proposal you will be announcing later this week.

"Transportation is key to our nation's well-being. Three decades ago, when I was mayor of San Jose, Calif., and was focused on how I could improve the community where I'd been born and raised, I had the usual range of policy tools--city planning, zoning authorities, economic development programs, grants for housing.

"But the tool that made the biggest difference in my community was transportation. Nothing else had as great an impact on our economic development, on the pattern of growth, or on the quality of life as transportation.

"A safe and efficient transportation system is essential for keeping people and goods moving and cities and communities prosperous. Building a safe and efficient transportation system is a continuous process--we should never rest on our laurels.

"A central challenge for the department and the nation is to close the gap between demand for transportation and the capacity of our transportation infrastructure. From Los Angeles, where it takes an average of 20 minutes to negotiate the interchange of interstates 10 and 405, to the Washington area where many highways become 'parking lots' at rush hour, Americans are spending more and more time trapped in their cars. Drivers in the nation's largest cities spend about 40 hours per year--a full work week--stuck in traffic.

"With more vehicles traveling on our roads and more passengers and flights traveling in the air, our transportation system is operating at near capacity and, in many places, demand is far exceeding that capacity.

"That gap between demand and capacity is what generates the heavy traffic we face on highways, the delay we experience on the taxiway or at the gate, the inefficiencies shippers face when their shipments are jammed up in a rail bottleneck, a beltway traffic jam or a port operation struggling with constrained landside transportation access.

"To ease the airport problem, we must begin today to streamline the review process for airport expansion. We could, for example, do state and federal environmental impact assessments for new runways simultaneously, rather than consecutively without lessening our commitment to the environment. We will work with the aviation community and Congress over the next year to develop a plan of action for making further improvements to the nation's aviation system. And new runway capacity has to be part of that plan.

"Congestion and delay not only waste our time as individuals, but they also burden our entire economy and inefficiency, higher costs and lost productivity.

"But the most fundamental challenge we face--and the most daunting--is not just congestion or delays but modernizing our system. These are enormous challenges, to be sure, but the biggest challenge is to maintain and improve our excellent safety record. The key to surmounting those challenges is to get everyone working in a spirit of partnership to solve these problems. We all created these problems and we can solve them--but only by working together.

"Strengthening our commitment to keep safety as our paramount concern cannot be over-emphasized, particularly at a time when the national focus is on system efficiency.

"Again, I'd like to acknowledge ARTBA's leadership on safety. Your work on the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, with the Federal Highway Administration, has been extremely valuable. Your sponsorship of the first-ever conference on work-zone safety later this year is another important safety initiative.

"Today, we face many transportation challenges and we need to work together on solutions that are multi-modal, creative and visionary . . . taking into account what our country will look like in the next two or even three decades.

"We must be committed to the importance of highway infrastructure, but equally important is the support of our related infrastructure systems, like airports and sea ports, like pipelines and rail lines. Our nation's transportation system is only as strong as its weakest link.

"We know what needs to be done to meet the transportation challenges facing our nation. We need to begin to sort out how we are going to do it, and everyone is going to have to come to the table committed to solving the problem. We all own a piece of the problem--and I know we all have a piece of the solution.

"Since ISTEA became law in 1991, we have attempted to involve local and state officials to build the support necessary to solve local transportation problems. It will take more than us talking here in Washington, it will require you to be involved--truly involved--in the transportation planning process on the local and state levels and to be informed about federal transportation actions.

"Local and state officials are the key decision-makers on how transportation money is invested. If you are concerned about specific improvements, you should get involved in the process and let your voice be heard. If you don't, someone else with different priorities from yours will be the one that is heard.

"Transportation solutions involve some really large issues, but they're not problems that we can't resolve. It is a question of getting people and interests together, as diverse as they might be. It will require bringing people together to deal with a common problem in order to find the common denominator."

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