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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

Public Roads - January/February 2002

Guest Editorial

"Checking the Rightness of Our Direction"

In remarks to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Board of Directors Meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas, on Dec. 2, 2001, Federal Highway Administrator Mary E. Peters outlined her priorities as administrator and talked about the challenges ahead.

Since becoming administrator in October, Peters has been consulting with others and has been leading a process to "check the rightness of the direction" of FHWA.

"First and foremost is the safety and security of our nation's highway system," she stated. "Security is particularly important following the September terrorist attacks on our nation. ... In the aftermath of the attacks, the viability of the system was proven in its ability to absorb dispersed transportation demand when Secretary Mineta wisely grounded all air transportation to prevent further terrorist actions.

"However, in terms of highway safety, we still lose far too many lives to crashes - more than 40,000 persons lose their lives every year on the nation's highway system. ... The three E's - engineering, education, and enforcement - can help prevent these crashes, as will efforts to work closely with emergency response personnel.

"Work zone safety, both for motorists and highway workers, is also critical. I once had to tell the spouse of one of our employees that her husband would not be coming home that night because he had been killed on the job. That is something I never want to do again, nor do I want anyone else in this room to have to.

"Environmental streamlining remains a critical priority. We can improve processes to make them more efficient and less duplicative while being respectful stewards of the environment. ... [Streamlining] is a leadership issue, and, ladies and gentlemen, we will lead!"

"We need to continue to improve our oversight and accountability for the expenditure of public funds, without negatively impacting the ability of states and local governments to deliver their programs. We will do this with you, not to you.

"Congestion and bottlenecks damage air quality, slow commerce, increase energy consumption, and threaten our quality of life. ... Although the solution is not just to add capacity, that option must be part of our toolkit. ... Sometimes transportation is about asphalt, concrete, and steel!

"Of course, we must consider other options, including technology, transit, and intermodal and multimodal solutions. We also should encourage state and local governments to incorporate land-use considerations into their transportation planning process.

"At the end of the day, people should have choices, not mandates."

She also talked about reauthorization. The FHWA Advisory Working Group will reach out to "the broader transportation community, and we will bring in expert resources for consultation."

Citing the proverbial wish or curse, "May you live in interesting times," Peters said, "I am pleased to have the opportunity to serve as your federal highway administrator during this very interesting time!"

Bob Bryant