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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Remarks for Acting Federal Highway Administrator Brandye L. Hendrickson U.S. Capitol Visitors Center

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

[off introduction]

Thank you. I am pleased to spend time with you today.

It is fitting that we meet here, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. Like our transportation systems, the Capitol itself is a marvel of engineering. The dome alone is 4.4 million tons, supported by a series of columns, and was built by hand, without the benefit of cranes. Just like the pyramids and other grand structures, it was reliant on engineers – masters of the rope and pulley – as well as brute strength… but the most important element was creativity and planning.

In the U.S., we face a similarly daunting future – one with transportation challenges that can only be overcome with creativity and planning. 

The road system of the United States began long before there were cars and trucks. Officially, it began in 1806 when President Thomas Jefferson funded what was then called a “National Road,” connecting Cumberland, Maryland, to the Ohio River – near what today is called Wheeling, West Virginia – about 160 miles away.  When it was built, the National Road was a launchpad for many early Americans who were venturing out into the frontier through the Cumberland Gap. It led to inns, stores and other commercial opportunities, and made an easy gateway for people looking to build better lives for themselves.

When the Brooklyn Bridge was built in the 1880s, it was the tallest building in New York City and the largest manmade object in the world. It inspired a nation, and remains a popular subject of artists, painters, photographers and writers.

The Interstate Highway System was created in 1956, paving the way for the United States’ transition from agriculture-based economy to one based on manufacturing. It opened the door to our vehicle culture, and the “open road” continues to epitomize freedom to the American people.

Each of these items have something in common.  They are historic because they each represent the beginning of something.

The construction of something.

The act of MAKING something has become culturally significant in the United States.  Creating something meaningful – larger than life, even – has been glorified, while the act of MAINTAINING it hasn’t.  Sadly, there is very little glory in maintenance.

The architect of a skyscraper is hailed as a hero, as an artist and a visionary who conquered gravity and built an enduring monument to man’s ingenuity. 

Sadly, no one ever talks about the plumber, or the electrician, who have to keep it functional.

The United States faces an ongoing challenge of preserving over four million miles of public road and over 600,000 bridges and tunnels, and to do so, we need the public’s support.  We need to make maintenance more exciting.

The President will soon unveil his infrastructure plan and, if passed, it will be the biggest investment in transportation infrastructure in American history. Much of it will depend on maintaining or improving the existing infrastructure. In most places, we cannot simply replace roads or bridges. Streets in downtown New York City, or highways and bridges in other cities, cannot easily be replaced. Fixing the existing system so that it is safer, more durable and more efficient is our top priority.

And I have to admit – we have learned much from our Japanese colleagues. The relationship we have built over the last half-century has benefitted both our nations. Your “slide-in-place” bridge technology has made replacing old bridges with newer ones faster than ever. What once took us weeks, or months, we can know do over a weekend or two. It has revolutionized our ability to serve the public. We can do maximum work while minimizing the public’s inconvenience.

Similarly, our bridge inspection program is the model for yours.  Our “Quiet Pave” technology to reduce road noise in certain areas has led to your “Whisper Pave” technology, which I’m told is very impressive. The American people and the Japanese people are safer because of our decades of building on the good ideas of each other.  I look forward to continuing that relationship.

If you have any recommendations on how best to shorten project completion times, we are listening.

In the U.S., one of the biggest contributors to project delays – and unnecessary cost inflation – is governmental red tape.  The time it takes a state or local government agency to get a project approved by the federal government is entirely too long… but we are working on it. 

The President is directing all of us in the federal government to find ways of getting environmental reviews and other permissions made within two years.  Simplifying what has become an incredible complex and time-consuming process will help all 50 states, and the public at large.  

Aging infrastructure is our problem. We can’t afford to let it age further as paperwork demands grow. Renewing our infrastructure will be a big job… but what a privilege it is to be a part of it.

Domo arigato gozaimusu  [DO-mo ARR-ee-got-toe go-ZYEE-moosoo]

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