News
Secretary Ray LaHood Remarks as Prepared ITS America Annual Meeting
Houston, Texas
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thank you, Steve, for the welcome.  I’m delighted to be in Houston and to join you for this exciting conversation.

I’m also pleased to share the stage with IBM’s Sam Palmisano.  IBM is marrying infrastructure with artificial intelligence – and making transportation systems around the world safer, more accessible, more sustainable, and more efficient.  I think those are aspirations we can all support.  And I thank you, Sam, for demonstrating how the public and private sectors can be better partners.

When I spoke to ITS America’s annual meeting last year, I pledged that the Department of Transportation would be committed to improving safety, creating jobs and infrastructure to sustain economic growth, promoting livable communities, and exercising good stewardship of our environment.  I also told you that research and technology would play a crucial role in achieving these objectives.  Well, this administration has made good on its word.  So I thought that maybe the best way to share President Obama’s and our vision for surface transportation would be to talk about what’s happening at the department of transportation.

When we met 11 months ago, the United States economy was contracting and hemorrhaging jobs.  Too many families still suffer amidst the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. 

But just last week, we learned that our economy is slowly but surely growing again.  In fact, during the first quarter of 2010, the economy expanded at a rate of 3.2 percent.  And job creation continues gaining speed.

One major reason is the Recovery Act, which protected or produced 2.2 million of these jobs.  When I travel across the country – and I’ve now been to more than 35 states and 80 cities – I see up close and in person that these numbers aren’t abstractions.

One story sticks with me.  Two winters ago, Bryan White, from Havre de Grace, Maryland, was laid off from his job as an equipment operator.  It was his first stint without work in almost a decade.  But because of the Recovery Act, he was called back to the jobsite last spring. 

When he was, he and his family revived a favorite tradition: a Chinese food dinner on Friday nights.  This, of course, helps the local Szechuan Inn.  It helps the local grocery where the restaurant purchases produce. It helps the suppliers who stock that store’s shelves.  And this process of transformation now plays out in hundreds of communities.

This is the Recovery Act’s ripple-effect.  Economists say that each dollar of stimulus spending creates more than $1.35 of impact.  And it means that, for two million families, it’s a little easier to pay the rent or mortgage, put food on the table, or prepare to send kids to college.

There is no doubt: We still have a long distance to travel before we reach full recovery.  Too many of our neighbors are still out of work. But the situation is getting better.  We expect many more jobs to come on-line this year, especially as major projects continue and new projects begin.  And we’re especially keyed up about our support for 51 intermodal TIGER grants, which will better integrate roadways, railways, transit, and seaports across the country.

Still, safety remains our highest priority at the department.  Many of you know that I’ve been on a rampage about distracted driving.  During the last few years, distracted driving has evolved from a dangerous practice to a deadly dilemma – a deadly epidemic. 

It’s an epidemic because everyone has a cell phone –   and everyone thinks they can drive and text or talk at the same time.  I’ve got news for you: You can’t.  And tragedy after tragedy affirms it.  Distraction or inattention resulted in 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries in 2008.  Each of them completely avoidable.

For our part, the Obama Administration has taken a number of steps toward tackling the problem.  About a year ago, we held a summit on the issue in Washington.  More than 300 people attended and more than 30,000 participated over the internet.

We heard heartbreaking stories about parents who lost children – and children who lost parents – because someone was foolish and selfish enough to think that they could text or talk while driving.  When we heard these stories, we knew something needed to be done.   So we’ve taken this on.

First, the President prohibited all federal employees from texting while operating a government car – and from using a government mobile device while operating a private car. 

Now, the Department of Transportation forbids commercial truck and bus drivers from text messaging on the job, provides state governments with sample legislation against texting while driving, and is experimenting with two pilot programs that test whether highly visible enforcement and public service announcements can change our neighbors’ minds and actions.

We gave two communities – Hartford, Connecticut, and Syracuse, New York – $200,000 and they both matched our money with $100,000 of their own.  They’re using it to put law enforcement officers on street corners and ticket drivers who are talking on their cell phones.  During one week in April, the Hartford police cited more than 2,000 drivers for talking on cell phones – and 200 more for texting while driving.  That’s just one week.  And just one city.

Other states are also actively engaged in the crusade.  24 have outlawed text messaging behind the wheel.  Two more will do so soon.

The bottom line is: We’re in the same place on this as we were with drunk driving a generation ago.  It used to be that if you were pulled over for driving under the influence, the police would pat you on the back and put you in a cab.  Not anymore.  And we’re working to change peoples’ minds and behaviors in a similar way – with tougher laws, consistent enforcement, and effective public outreach.

Of course, our heaviest lift comes with the surface transportation bill.  So far, we’ve held three public meetings – one in New Orleans, another in Minneapolis, and another in Los Angeles.  We’re having our fourth this afternoon.

Having gone through this process, we’ve committed to a new recipe of legislative ingredients. It consists of: Ingredients that improve safety and reduce injuries and fatalities; ingredients that keep our communities economically competitive and affordable; ingredients that maintain the reliability, capacity, and efficiency of our entire transportation network; ingredients that give people more than one choice about how to get from one place to another – so kids can walk or bike to school and veterans or seniors can get to a doctor’s appointment if they can’t drive; ingredients that reduce America’s reliance on oil and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Blended together, this mix will help ensure that a student in Houston can go from a neighborhood with safe streets to a school that prepares her to collaborate and compete in the global economy.  It will help ensure that student’s parents go from an affordable home to a job that pays the bills.

Now, we need to figure out how to pay for it.  I believe we will.  But this is the framework of priorities that the new surface transportation bill will include – not because I say so, but because it’s what the American people want.

Finally, DOT supports research and development of new technologies that make vehicles and roads safer.  We’re so excited about the breakthrough work in which you’re engaged.

As you know, RITA has released its Intelligent Transportation Systems Strategic Research Plan.  It sets the course for our ITS program.

We’re fully committed to Dedicated Short Range Communications, which deliver real-time information and data to – and between – vehicles.  We know that this technology will not only achieve new safety benefits, but also create a platform for innovations with countless commercial applications.

We’re thrilled about the long-term prospects of new warning systems – including those that remind you if you’re following another vehicle too closely, if someone’s in your blind-spot, or if a pedestrian is behind you when you put the car in reverse.

And, later this year, we’ll announce a more rigorous five-star government safety rating program for new cars.  It will focus on both a vehicles’ crash-worthiness and its crash avoidance capabilities.

Let me close with this:  You make all of this possible.  Where rubber meets road and steel meets track, it’s the research community and private sector – not only the public sector – that must play a leadership role.  You’re the innovators.  Your ideas will transform our industries.  And we’re counting on your continued partnership.

Together, we can discover new technologies and deploy them in creative ways.  Together, we can make our infrastructure safer and lay the foundation for growth and prosperity.  I’m convinced: America’s chance for change is here.  Together, we’ll seize it.

Additional ITS Resources on the Federal Highway Administration Office of Operations Website




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