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State Partnerships Meeting - Washington, DC


"Remarks as Prepared for Delivery"


I’m pleased and honored to be here with so many friends of FTA and champions for public transportation in the United States.

As Peter Rogoff conveyed in his remarks yesterday, at a time when the conversation in Washington is all about budget cuts, President Obama and Secretary LaHood remain committed to making smart investments in transportation.

And so do all of us at FTA.

We’re committed to getting a transportation bill passed soon that will put more Americans back to work rebuilding our rail and bus systems, bridges, roads, and other critical infrastructure – and bring a measure of stability to the planning process.

Of course, there’s no getting around the fact that times are tough for all of us.

But challenge also means opportunity. You’ve heard this before—but there’s truth in it.

I think FTA’s policies and programs are very much in tune with an era where we all must learn to do more with less.

That’s why we are advocating so strongly for better transit asset management practices that put transit system maintenance and preservation on a more predictable path.

It’s why we are advocating for sustainable technologies that help reduce energy consumption and fuel bills, at a time when transit agency budgets are tighter than ever.

It’s why we support a brand new initiative to help local transportation providers work together more efficiently than ever, by using innovative one-call and one-click transportation resource centers to help military families, veterans, and people with disabilities connect with jobs and other resources.

Now, I’m here today to talk about livability, not veterans or transit asset management strategies.

But all of these priorities are related.

Livability is all about investing the resources we have right now in local projects and priorities that improve the quality of life for everyone—working families, businesses, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Livability comprises a vision of safer, healthier, and more prosperous neighborhoods—with green space, walking, and cycling paths nearby.

It’s a vision of communities that are economically competitive and affordable—communities in which people have more than one choice about how to get to work.

It’s also a vision of infrastructure—whether road, rail, sea, or air—that’s safe, functional, and in a state of good repair.

And finally, it’s a vision of an America in which economic development, housing, and transportation planning are connected, as our nation finally pushes back against decades of disinvestment in metropolitan regions, and rural towns, and the infrastructure that sustains them.

Here in the U.S., we’ve tried for years, with the very best intentions, to make some of this vision a reality. Sometimes we call it “smart growth.” Sometimes we call it “urban revitalization” or “rural reinvestment.”

But whatever we call it, it’s not easy to achieve because the projects we’re talking about, on the scale we’re talking about, require significant investment and the vision to plan not for the next quarter or the next election cycle, but for the next generation.

Through the TIGER grant program—that’s Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery—we funded $1.5 billion of merit-based livability projects across America.

Many of them provided Americans with more affordable, more efficient, more sustainable ways of getting around—by encouraging sidewalks and bike paths, and transit solutions like commuter and light rail.

Last fall, we took another significant step forward.

Building on our momentum, we announced nearly $600 million in competitive TIGER II grants.

This second round of funding was different from the first because we specifically aimed to help communities develop a vision for livability by awarding planning grants.

This approach is especially important to small towns and rural areas that may have big-city-type problems, but not big-city staff or the capacity to address them.

And the proof is in the pudding:

In roughly a dozen rural communities. . . including Western Colorado, the Northeast corner of Georgia, Central Missouri, and upstate New York. . . FTA has awarded millions of dollars in planning grants to help rural communities explore new transportation choices, connect small villages, make streetscape improvements, and identify barriers that hold residents back from reaching desired destinations.

And stay tuned for TIGER III:

An interim notice of funding availability was published July 1 – and the full notice is due out any day now.

This time around, there’s $527 million available for innovative transportation projects – nothing to sneer at in this day and age.

And while there’s no money set aside specifically for capital planning grants, as in TIGER II, rural applicants are strongly encouraged to apply.

In fact, a fourth of these funds are set aside for rural projects.

Smaller projects count here – you can request as little as $1 million for a priority project in your area.

Complementing our strong TIGER program, DOT is now in the second year of a successful Sustainability Partnership with HUD and the EPA.

Together, we’re evaluating and awarding grants for projects where transit, housing, and environmental concerns—such as vehicle emissions—are considered together, to ensure better outcomes.

As part of this Sustainability Partnership, DOT alone has provided nearly $100 million in grants to 33 communities and 62 local and regional partnerships to create a new generation of policies and projects that bring affordable housing closer to jobs and businesses.

And again, small towns and rural areas are a central focus.

In Mid-coast Maine, for example, DOT has invested $1.6 million in consultation with HUD and the EPA to help state transportation officials do a better job of linking land use with transportation needs.

This project, by the way, was thought up by Maine residents. It’s very much a bottom-up initiative, rather than top-down.

This partnership is a big deal.

It represents an unprecedented new way of working together.

And it sets a powerful example for how we can reward true excellence…build effective partnerships…and ensure good stewardship of taxpayer dollars in communities of all sizes.

In an era of austerity, cooperation along these lines is more essential than ever, if we hope to achieve our goals.

To fully realize our vision for livable communities, we will continue to seek out merit-based projects in which to invest our limited resources. And we will work with our friends in Congress to set up a National Infrastructure Bank, as President Obama has discussed.

This is an essential tool for leveraging private investment dollars to finance transportation innovations that are regional or national in scope—and which deserve consideration on the merits.

And to help build and rebuild economies outside major metropolitan areas, FTA is working internally and with Federal partners to improve our ties to rural communities and foster the kind of technical assistance and capacity building that small and rural communities need to translate big dreams into local success stories.

For example, DOT and its sustainability partners will soon release a join report on Building Federal Support for Sustainable Rural Communities.

The report will clarify the programs within each Federal agency that serves rural communities—cutting through some of the red tape for you.

And we’ll provide case studies of how Federal support works in rural communities, which can serve as models.

In addition, FTA has developed a “Guide to Effective Participation in Statewide Decision-Making for Transit Agencies in Non-Urbanized Areas.”

That’s a mouthful, to be sure.

But the point of this report, which we’ll release later in August, is to provide examples that help rural transit agencies and rural planning agencies work more effectively with state DOTs to incorporate transit in statewide decision-making.

The report is chock full of case studies and examples showing how transit contributes to livability in rural areas.

Our bottom line is this: The investments we’ve made in transportation and infrastructure over the last two years are already creating jobs, opportunities, and better neighborhoods for millions of Americans.

But we can’t stop there.

President Obama knows, and we know, that this is a time to move forward, not backward.

This is a time to invest wisely in our communities, so that our children and their children can live in more affordable homes, have more and better access to transportation, and enjoy a cleaner environment.

Looking ahead, we recognize that there are many different opinions in Washington on the right way to move our country forward to ensure a brighter future for everyone.

For our part, we’ll continue to fight for the transit services that Americans need and want.

And so will the President.

In the end, access to safe, reliable transportation isn’t a Democrat priority or a Republican priority.

It’s about working together to find the best solutions to keep American moving forward and help working families around the country access the jobs and services they need to succeed.

We need all of you to join with us in advocating for taxpayer investments in local transportation projects that make a difference in your communities.

We need you to remind your Congressional representatives that Americans want more transit, not less. They want communities filled with affordable housing, reasonable commutes, and access to vibrant downtowns.

I’m grateful to all of you for all your hard work and determination.

FTA is very proud to be your partner.

Thank you.

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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