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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - January/February 2016

January/February 2016
Issue No:
Vol. 79 No. 4
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

Challenges Confronted, Solutions Found, Opportunities Ahead


With about 1 year left until Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau and the rest of the Obama Administration turn over the reins to a new team, now is as good a time as any to look back at the last 7 years. Everyone in FHWA has played a role and should take pride in the agency’sachievements.

In 2009, America was reeling from what many now call “The Great Recession.” Driving in the United States was entering its second year of decline, lengthening an already historic downturn in fuel sales and aggravating the challenges facing the Highway Trust Fund. Unemployment was heading skyward as businesses scaled back their workforces, or closed their doors altogether, in response to the rugged new economic landscape.

Within a month of taking office, President Obama worked with Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The act made $26.6 billion available to jumpstart what became more than 12,000 road and bridge projects nationwide.

Despite years of limited funds, short-term extensions, and a 2-year authorization bill--the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21)--that fell far short of the Nation’s long-term infrastructure spending needs, FHWA was able to help the country’s roads and bridges significantly. For example, the number of bridges considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete is now half what it was in 1992, and that is definitely worth celebrating.

Road safety, which is the agency’s top priority, remains an unqualified success. The roadway fatality rate is at an all-time low, despite the Nation having more drivers than ever before (212.1 million motorists, according to the most recent Federal data). Moreover, they drove more than 3 trillion vehicle-miles in 2014 and are on pace to set a new mileage record once the 2015 figures are published. The 32,719 roadway fatalities that the United States suffered in 2013 are entirely too many, but they represent a decrease of more than 40 percent from the all-time high of 55,600in 1972. FHWA will continue to work Toward Zero Deaths®. Although there is a long way to go, the progress is encouraging.

In addition, FHWA has undergone a philosophical transformation. What was once a small agency committed to annual trust fund apportionments and routine bridge and road inspections has become a powerhouse of innovation and an inspiration to government agencies at all levels. Since the President tapped Administrator Nadeau to join the agency in July 2009 as the deputy administrator, Nadeau has encouraged the whole organization to find ways of making every day count. The Every Day Counts initiative has inspired a philosophy that has spread to all corners of the agency, and to all 50 States. Good ideas and suggestions about new ways to save time, money, and lives come from all directions.

Although much work remains, everyone at FHWA should take pride in these accomplishments and look forward to the opportunities that lieahead.

Jane Mellow
FHWA Office of Public Affairs