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Southwest Transit Association - San Antonio, TX


Therese McMillan
 Deputy Administrator
 Federal Transit Administration
 Southwest Transit Association

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you. It’s great to be with you.

Secretary Anthony Foxx, Administrator Peter Rogoff, and I have all spent a lot of time in the Southwest over the past year.

FTA worked with you to open or break ground on projects across the region.

From New Orleans, where the new Loyola Avenue streetcar is anchoring blocks of economic development ….

… To Denver, where the 12-mile West Rail line has expanded the city’s light rail.

From Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where we opened the first rural BRT service in the country…

… To Houston, where the NorthLine became the first of three new light rail lines to open.

The Southwest is becoming a model for how communities can meet explosive growth with a balanced transportation system.

And you’re demonstrating in a vivid way how transit can provide – as President Obama calls them – ladders of opportunity.

His State of the Union address last week was a powerful evocation of the optimism that lies at the heart of America.

He tied each initiative to opportunity: … Jobs and economic opportunity … Educational opportunity … and the opportunity to achieve and sustain a life in the Middle Class.

This is what transit does – it’s what you do.

We connect people to opportunity

Secretary Foxx’s Priorities

Our Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, has picked up the theme of opportunity and articulated the priorities that we as a department need to focus on to fulfill that vision.

 He joined us almost seven months ago, and some of you have had the chance to meet him as he’s travelled throughout the Southwest.

He was formerly the Mayor of Charlotte, NC, and he understands our programs from the point of view of a grantee, a transit operator, and a local elected official.

Recently, at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting, he laid out four priorities for America’s transportation systems.

I want to share those with you and how they fit in with our work at FTA.

They are also an excellent encapsulation of the issues we need to address as we move towards a new transportation reauthorization law.

A National Vision for Transportation

His broader vision is that “Our transportation system should be greater than the sum of its parts.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because those of us who work in transit – and certainly here in the Southwest – live and die by the connections we make among modes of travel.

We’re used to considering how we can connect bus, rail, bike, pedestrian, airport, and highway travel.

Secretary Foxx is working towards a national vision for transportation that connects communities to opportunity.

From his own experience in Charlotte, he’s mindful that when conceived of in isolation, transportation projects can actually divide rather than connect communities.

Predictable Funding

That vision can only be built on the solid foundation provided by predictable funding.

It’s been 10 years since a 6-year surface transportation authorization bill was approved.

That means funding has been anything BUT predictable for those of you who rely on federal funding.

Now we’re approaching the end of MAP-21 – with a Highway Trust Fund that could run out as early as August.

The President and the Secretary are calling on Congress to pass transportation funding that provides a predictable foundation for sustained future growth.

Secretary Foxx has also identified the urgency of closing our infrastructure deficit.

Nationally, the backlog for transit repair and maintenance exceeds $86 billion.

We’ll soon be issuing a Conditions and Performance Report detailing the state of America’s transportation infrastructure.

While I can’t share all of the details with you today, here’s one fact that makes clear the deep hole we find ourselves in: nationally, we would need to invest $2.5 billion a year just to stay where we’re at right now.

Over the last five years, FTA’s worked to meet that need by investing billions from MAP-21, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and discretionary funds.

But to finally close the gap and repair our aging infrastructure will require a transportation bill that provides predictable long-term funding – and that reiterates that state of good repair is a priority on par with expanding services.

Efficiency in Regulations

Secretary Foxx has noted, however, that “we are not going to be able to spend our way out of this infrastructure deficit.”

To get the most out of the money we do have, we have to address the cost of projects.

One way we’re doing that is by reducing red tape.

In his State of the Union address two years ago, President Obama called on federal agencies to find ways to get construction projects started sooner.

Over the past year, we streamlined our New Starts / Small Starts capital investment program, helping local project sponsors potentially shave six months or more off the time required to move major projects through the New Starts pipeline.

We have a more straightforward approach for measuring a proposed transit project’s cost-effectiveness; we’re considering an expanded range of environmental benefits; and we’ve added economic development factors into the ratings process.

These were common sense changes we made in response to your suggestions.

Thank you for helping us get projects started – and finished – quicker.

To further save time and taxpayer money, FTA recently made available a new software tool to help sponsors estimate transit trips on proposed projects.

Transit STOPS is expected to reduce the length of time needed to develop ridership forecasts from as much as two years to as little as two weeks—and save project sponsors as much as $1 million on consulting and administrative costs normally incurred during the process.


Safety is our highest priority, across all modes of travel.

By giving FTA transit safety oversight for the first time, MAP-21 makes us more responsible than ever for the rider experience.

We are in the process of implementing FTA’s new safety oversight authority.

In October, FTA issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on Safety and Transit Asset Management. Keeping transit systems in good working order goes hand-in-hand with keeping them safe.

We want to give you and other industry leaders the chance to weigh-in and shape these new rules as early as possible.

The Southwest has a vast range of transit agencies, big and small, urban and rural.

You’ll be glad to know that we’ve adopted a Safety Management Systems approach that will let us avoid one-size-fits-all regulations.

Keeping a safe mode of transportation safe will require a new partnership:

The FTA acting as leader, facilitator, and final regulatory authority…

… And states with State Safety Oversight obligations serving as day-to-day regulators.


So Secretary Foxx has laid out these priorities:

Building on our safety record for all modes of transportation;

Ensuring funding is predictable to build and sustain needed transportation infrastructure and services;

Improving the regulatory infrastructure that can deliver our infrastructure projects more quickly and effectively;

Setting a bold national vision for transportation;

And ensuring that EVERYONE takes part in that vision by connecting to a transportation system that links to economic and social opportunity.

In doing so, he recognized that these are not new ideas. Especially for stakeholder groups like this one.

But they are absolutely essential as the foundation for a balanced transportation system that is capable of adapting to a growing and changing America – nowhere more so than here in the Southwest.

And they are necessary if we’re to answer President Obama’s call to action.

I want to submit to you today that public transit – your work, your passion – is indispensable in achieving those goals.

You’re the ones that are connecting people to jobs.

You’re the ones that, with our help, are supporting US manufacturing jobs by buying American-made buses and rail cars.

And you’re the ones that – in places like Tempe, Houston, and El Paso – are connecting communities to universities and vice versa, expanding educational opportunities.

So it’s an honor to be with you today to celebrate what we’ve accomplished together – and to look forward to all the things we’ll accomplish in the year – and years – to come.

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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