At colleges and universities across America, a wave of commencements is underway. For thousands of students, crossing the threshold and becoming graduates is a moment when everything is possible.
And for the Class of 2013 at Gallaudet University, a world leader in educating deaf and hard of hearing students, this is particularly true. Because the 144th graduating class at Gallaudet has already faced their share of adversity, and they have responded with their share of boldness.
I was honored to speak at Gallaudet's commencement ceremony last Friday. As a member of the Gallaudet Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2009, I welcomed the opportunity to return to the Kendall Green campus and challenge the Class of 2013 to continue being bold. It's a challenge I'm sure they will have no difficulty meeting head-on.
After all, boldness is in their blood--it’s been there all along. When other kids treated them differently. When the clerk at the grocery store was unable to answer a simple question because they couldn’t sign. When people misunderstood their abilities, and so dismissed their dreams.
Boldness helped them overcome the many obstacles they’ve faced throughout their lives, and it will continue to push them along and help them pursue their big dreams.
America is no stranger to boldness. From the moment the first colonists left their homes, we have demonstrated to the world our willingness to press forward boldly. In 1817, the boldness of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet--for whom the University is named-- helped him co-found the first school for the deaf in the United States.
Boldness was a hallmark of President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the charter for Gallaudet University in 1864. It was with him when he assembled as his Cabinet a Team of Rivals, when he signed the bill that led to the first transcontinental railroad, and when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
In 2009, some of my own colleagues thought it was bold of me to accept President Obama's invitation to join his Cabinet as Secretary of Transportation. I don't know about that--in fact, it was probably bolder of the President to nominate me, a lifelong Republican.
But if there was any boldness in my decision, it was in my willingness to look beyond what divided us and focus on what President Obama and I shared: a deep passion to get things done for the American people. And to me, in this political climate, the willingness to look past our differences is the most important form of boldness I can urge upon today's graduates.
At DOT, we help communities build transportation projects. Some of them are big, and some of them are not. But all of them are the product of people who have boldly put their differences aside to work together.
Being bold requires us to work together. It requires civility. It requires compromise. College students understand this. They have lived side-by-side with and become friends with people who are different from them. And they have come to know and love their friends not just despite their differences, but even because of them.
Today's graduates--from Gallaudet and elsewhere--are bold; this nation is fortunate to have them. We might even learn a thing or two from them.
Congratulations to the Class of 2013 across America. Good luck and Godspeed.
As May moves toward June, the summer air travel season is heating up right alongside the weather. And with air travel poised for takeoff, DOT wants to make sure that you and your family get a fair shake when you take to the skies.
Need information on choosing between nearby airports? We can help. Connecting flights vs. nonstops? We've got that, too. The FAQs are organized to prepare you through every step: before you travel, at the airport, at your destination, and after you return.Looking for more information? Check out "Plane Talk," our in-depth fact sheets on topics like Unaccompanied Minors, Traveling With Animals, and Getting The Best Fares.
And, should something go wrong, we've can help with Coping With Flight Delays from our "Plane Talk" series and a section of FAQs on how to deal with delayed or lost baggage. We also offer an easy online tool to submit a complaint, comment, or question.
If it's deep preparation you seek, our "Fly Rights" is the source for you. "Fly Rights" is our comprehensive Consumer Guide To Air Travel.
Best of all, DOT's Air Travel Tips is available online, so you can pack the entire staff of our Aviation Consumer Protection office in your suitcase and still have room for your swimsuit, sandals, and sunscreen.
Your summer vacation should be a time for making great memories. But air travel requires some basic preparation. That's why the first stop on your itinerary is DOT's Air Travel Tips.
It's all part of our mission to help you get the most out of your travel this summer...and whenever you fly.
Congratulations to everyone who celebrated Bike To Work Day 2013, and particularly those who were first-time bike commuters. It was a banner year for this event, with cities from Anchorage, Alaska, to West Palm Beach, Florida, reporting bigger-than-ever turnouts.
Bike To Work Day is a terrific opportunity for those who have considered bicycle commuting to give it a try.
Bike associations organize convoys from different neighborhoods to help people see what routes are bike-friendly. They set up pit stops where they offer water, coffee, and breakfast. And they host rallies where speakers talk about local bike amenities and the many benefits of bicycling. First-time riders-to-work learn that --depending on the community-- what might have seemed intimidating is easier than they thought.
Here in the Washington, DC, region, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association reported more than 14,500 people registered for the event, a 20 percent increase from last year. Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez was spotted at the region's biggest rally, held annually in Freedom Plaza. Capital Bikeshare tallied 10,166 rides, its highest-ever ridership for a weekday. And, I'm happy to report, the WABA pit stop at Canal Park, across the street from our DOT headquarters, had twice as many participants as last year.
As more and more people choose to ride, we've worked hard over the last four and half years at DOT to make sure that bicycling has a seat at the table, that communities that want to build bike-friendly infrastructure can get Federal support, and that our roadways work for all users.
And we've made a lot of progress. That's why, this spring, DOT began an effort to turn the bicycling conversation in a different direction: safety. We held two productive safety summits in April --one in Tampa and one in Minneapolis-- where experts, planners, and educators gathered to share best practices and to see what safety lessons could be applied in communities across the country. As we work to improve bike safety, we will build on those summits.
Our nation is working to reduce its reliance on oil. We also need to reduce our emissions. And, as our population grows, our roads are increasingly congested with cars. When people choose to ride their bicycles, they help us meet all three of those challenges. At the same time, they also enjoy their commute and get a healthy dose of exercise.
Bike To Work Day makes those benefits a reality for more and more cyclists each year. That's something to celebrate.
Co authored with Sylvia Burwell, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Cross-posted from www.whitehouse.gov/blog
President Obama today signed a Presidential Memorandum that will shave months, and even years, off the time it takes to review and approve major infrastructure projects. This means that states, local governments, and private developers will be able to start construction sooner, create jobs earlier, and fix our nation’s infrastructure faster.
On March 22, 2012, the President issued an Executive Order launching a government-wide initiative to improve the efficiency of federal review and permitting of infrastructure projects. Since then, agencies have expedited the review and permitting of 50 major projects, including bridges, transit , railways, waterways, roads, and renewable energy projects.
Federal agencies have also identified a set of best practices for efficient review and permitting. Those range from expanding information technology (IT) tools to strategies - like simultaneous review - for improving collaboration. Today’s Presidential Memorandum directs all relevant agencies to put these best practices into effect.
Cutting red tape and streamlining the process for making permitting decisions will help us meet the President’s goal of cutting in half the timelines for major infrastructure projects, while creating better outcomes for our communities and for the environment.
The President’s initiative is already showing real results. For example, this afternoon, President Obama and Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari will visit Baltimore, where we sped up the approval process for the city’s Red Line rail transit corridor by six months.
We also recently expedited Federal approval for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project in New York. By speeding up the approval process, Federal agencies trimmed up to three years off the timeline for this multi-billion dollar project that will help put Americans back to work.
To learn more about the Administration’s reform effort, you can read the President’s 2012 Executive Order, the Federal Action Plan describing what we are doing in more detail, and our first annual Report to the President on our progress so far. You can also track the results of specific projects on the Administration's Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard, a new tool that provides an unprecedented level of transparency into the Federal permitting and review process.
Going forward, the Administration will make even more extensive use of performance tools like the Dashboard as we work to make the exceptional time savings achieved on the first 50 projects the norm. We are also working to expand innovative mitigation tools to improve environmental outcomes; develop more targeted and relevant environmental reviews; provide more opportunities for public input; and build on our first five regional pilot teams to improve collaboration with State, local, and Tribal governments.
This permitting modernization effort is an important component of the President’s larger effort to grow the economy, accelerate job creation, and improve U.S. competitiveness by building a 21st Century infrastructure. Notably, the President’s 2014 Budget calls for immediately investing $50 billion in our Nation’s transportation infrastructure, with $40 billion devoted to “fix-it-first” projects that target areas in the most urgent need of repair. The President also proposed a “Rebuild America Partnership,” creating tools to encourage partnerships between the private sector and Federal, State, and local governments to enhance the role of private capital in U.S. infrastructure investment and ensure America has the best transportation, electric, water, and communications networks in the world.
America’s maritime industry is critical to our nation’s economy. Federal investments in our ports and shipyards not only help keep goods moving for farmers and manufacturers; with more than 107,000 jobs in the U.S. shipbuilding and repairing industry, our investments also make a big difference to workers nationwide.
For example, when our Maritime Administration awarded more than $150 million to help foster modern, globally competitive shipyards through its Small Shipyard Grant Program, we put men and women to work in good jobs.
One of those workers is Steve Williams, a ship fitter with four decades of experience. He entered the industry in 1973 after a stint as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army Airborne:
"I was laid off in 2009 after more than 35 years of steady work, " Steve said. "I was in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and the opportunities just weren't there. You can't imagine the sudden uncertainty--almost as bad as jumping out of a plane.
"I did some research on ship work in Maryland and found General Ship Repair Corporation. Until that point, they had not been hiring, but I submitted an application anyway.
"Then, the shipyard got a grant from the Maritime Administration to build a new drydock, and suddenly they were looking for workers. In March, 2010, I was hired.
"Once we got the drydock built, General needed people to help them with the work the new drydock brought in. So they took me on.
“Finally, I was back doing the kind of work I had been trained to do, the work I was best at. And now that I've been with General Shipyard for three years, I can't imagine myself anywhere else. I am truly grateful to the management at General.
"I'm also grateful to MARAD --all of us are-- for the grant that helped make it happen.
“Like I said, I was out there trying to find work and had even been willing to take a low-paying job in an entirely new state. But it was MARAD's investment in General Shipyard that turned things around. It gave the company the ability to attract a new line of business and expand their operations.
“That grant created good jobs for me and my coworkers; it means something to a lot of people."
Just as National Transportation Week reminds us to celebrate the many ways we have to get where we're going, for drivers it's also an opportunity to remember that not everyone on the road is in a car. May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and I urge drivers across the country to Share The Road with your fellow drivers who are on two wheels.
Because of their size, it is not always easy for drivers to see motorcylces in traffic. But motorcycles are especially visible in crash statistics released by our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2011, 4,612 motorcyclists died on America's roads. Those deaths amounted to 14 percent of total U.S. highway deaths, even though motorcycles make up only about 3 percent of all registered vehicles.
On a per mile basis, motorcyclists are more than 30 times more likely to die in a crash than occupants of cars, and five times more likely to be injured.
In fact, while automobile fatalities have been declining to historic lows, motorcycle deaths have increased every year --except 2009-- for the past 14 years.
These are just a few of the useful tips NHTSA has prepared; you can find more safety information on NHTSA's Motorcycle Safety website.Of course, the other side of asking drivers to Share The Road is to ask motorcyclists to do their part.
If motorcycles are less visible, riders can take steps to increase their visibilty with bright colors and reflective tape. They can signal their intentions clearly so automobile drivers can react safely. And they can avoid abrupt maneuvers that challenge drivers' ability to react.
And to better protect themselves in all situations, we urge all motorcyclists to wear helmets. NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of more than 1,600 motorcyclists in 2011. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 703 lives could have been saved.
The ribbons of highway that connect America all feature lanes that can accommodate cars and motorcycles alike. This month and every month, we're asking drivers and riders to accommodate each other.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of hosting the students and mentors of Everybody Wins! at DOT for a celebration of the literacy group's Power Lunch program.
Readers who have followed this blog during the past few years might recall that Everybody Wins! has been a favorite non-profit organization for me since my days in Congress. And since Washington, DC's Amidon-Bowen Elementary School is just down the street, I was happy to welcome EW! Power Lunch participants to DOT.
Power Lunch is a terrific program where adult reading mentors are paired with students and agree to visit the student's school once a week to read with the student during lunchtime. The goals of Power Lunch are simple: to encourage the student’s interest in reading and to expand the student's opportunities for success.
When adult read with kids, it generates enthusiasm for books and reading and helps students overcome their apprehension. It also builds important life skills like listening, comprehension and vocabulary, and it increases a child's attention span and ability to concentrate.
And the results show that the Power Lunch program works. Students who have been in the program participate more in the classroom, show increased enthusiasm for books, and are more motivated to learn.
Of course, those gains would not be possible without the dedication that Power Lunch mentors bring to the table. Throughout the academic year, whether they've had a good week at work or not, mentors take time away from their professional cares and share their enthusiasm for reading with students across the DC area.
But we should also credit the students. I know from my own experience as a Power Lunch mentor that the eagerness and energy they demonstrate is part of what mentors look forward to at the lunches each week.
So, congratulations to all who participated in Power Lunch and to Everybody Wins! for another terrific school year. Don't forget to keep reading!
As Secretary of Transportation, there have been few things more satisfying to me than seeing this Department put men and women to work improving safety in communities across America. And yesterday's dedication of two new bridges on East Stadium Boulevard in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a perfect example.
Since 2009, the Bridges Replacement Project has been the city of Ann Arbor's highest transportation priority. And, through the support of DOT's competitive TIGER program, we're happy to help community leaders check this critical project off their list.
The Boulevard is one of the most traveled roadways in Washtenaw County, with more than 25,000 vehicles --including transit buses and commercial trucks-- using the six-mile corridor each day. For safety reasons, in the last several years, the City has been forced to reduce the allowable load limits on the bridge over S. State Street several times, to prohibit heavy trucks from using both bridges, and to restrict the traffic lanes over each bridge from four to two.
The two bridges, just 350 feet apart, were built in 1928, and both were functionally obsolete--they did not comply with today's design standards, and both bridges lacked the necessary clearances for rail and road traffic below. In addition, the bridge over South State Street had been partially demolished because several beams were no longer safe, and the bridge over the Ann Arbor railroad tracks was structurally deficient.
Thanks in part to a 2010 TIGER grant and the more than 200 men and women who went to work on this project, what I saw yesterday in Ann Arbor was completely different.
The replacement bridge looks to be safer and includes bicycle and pedestrian amenities.
Photo courtesy Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
Today, the city's key east-west artery is once again intact, connecting the very busy campus of the University of Michigan with Ann Arbor's east side and allowing commuters improved access to I-94 and downtown Ann Arbor.
As Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez said, “Upgrading our infrastructure allows us to both put people to work and strengthen the economy. This project makes travel safer for Ann Arbor residents while offering greater transportation choices.”
It also demonstrates the value of President Obama's plan to "Fix It First" by targeting the most urgent upgrades for roads and bridges.
The city of Ann Arbor has been focused on doing just that, and the federal funds used on this project are just another example of our ongoing commitment to supporting much-needed road and bridge safety improvements while connecting communities and creating jobs at the same time.
And what if those new locomotives were made by American workers using components and materials that were manufactured by American men and women at 70 other U.S. companies? I'd call that an impressive demonstration of DOT's Buy America program at work for our nation's economy.
And what if the new locomotives could transform the energy generated by braking into electricity that would be fed back into the electrical grid, returning 65 percent of the locomotives' initial cost? That would be yet another win for a 21st Century national transportation system that is growing greener and greener all the time.
Finally, what if the new locomotives featured system redundancies and real-time remote systems monitoring to make trains on the Northeast and Keystone Corridors safer, more reliable, and easier to maintain? That would be a great improvement in American passenger rail travel.
And if we rolled all of the above into a single locomotive that achieves all of those gains? Well, that would be a terrific way to celebrate National Train Day and National Transportation Week.Siemens and Amtrak unveiled the first three advanced electric locomotives that will soon modernize the Amtrak fleet used by 11 million passengers each year in the Northeast. Our Deputy Federal Railroad Administrator Karen Hedlund was on hand with Siemen’s Rail CEO Michael Cahill, Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman, and Congressman John Garamendi to witness the first train coming off the manufacturing floor.
Amtrak’s order for 70 of the new locomotives also created good jobs in 60 different cities across the U.S.. In fact, to gain the necessary skills to build the new locomotives, Siemens sent workers overseas to learn from world-leading rail manufacturers. So, not only did the Amtrak contract add jobs; it also helped American workers add sophisticated skills that will improve their ability to compete globally.
Amtrak's purchase of the new fleet was financed through the Federal Railroad Administration's Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program, a valuable tool for railroads, states, and local governments to help meet critical transportation needs. And I am happy to see the Obama Administration's investment in American rail pay such a wide range of important dividends.
With rail ridership at an all-time high and rising across the nation, a new fleet set to begin service later this year, and U.S. manufacturing rolling again, it's pretty clear that America's rail renaissance is here.
In millions of transportation-related jobs in the United States-- from the U.S. and State DOTs to the rail carriers, transit agencies, freight shippers, airlines, bus companies, ferry services and more--your fellow Americans think day and night about the importance of transportation in our everyday lives so you don't have to.
But for one week each year--National Transportation Week--we like to remind folks that transportation moves America.
Our national transportation system gets you where you need to go and even gives you choices for getting there. Need to get to work? Many of us can drive, ride rail or bus transit, bike, or walk. Traveling for business? Add flying or intercity passenger rail to the range of options. Taking classes? Again, you've got choices. Doctor, grocery, hardware store? We'll get you there.
Trucks, trains, planes, and marine vessels move our food from farm to grocery, with an occasional stop along the way to transform grain into breakfast cereal or milk into ice cream. Roads, rails, and rivers lead iron ore from mines in Minnesota to steel mills in Ohio; then, they steer that steel on to factories across the U.S. And when the manufacturing process is complete, our transportation network takes finished goods to markets, both locally and abroad.
At every step of the way, transportation is either creating opportunities or making them accessible to tens of millions of Americans. If we aren't adding value, we're making it possible for others to add value.
The challenges on this sample list are relatively new, but we at DOT have hit the ground running so Americans can continue enjoying the mobility so central to our lives.
Over the past four and a half years, I have had many occasions to say that this is not your grandfather's DOT. Today, as we begin a week-long celebration of all things transportation, I am proud to say it again.
When Birmingham, Alabama, was devastated by a tornado in April 2011, residents and community leaders immediately put the city on a "Road To Recovery." And when DOT awarded the project a 2012 TIGER grant, we helped keep that important recovery effort moving forward.
Last week, the initiative took another step forward as Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez joined Birmingham Mayor William Bell and others to break ground on the Enon Ridge Multimodal Corridor and Civil Rights Complete Streets project, a key part of the 33.6 mile transportation network envisioned by the Road To Recovery.
With repaired roadways, new and restored sidewalks, and upgraded bicycle paths, the Road To Recovery will improve access for 250,000 residents to public transit, jobs, retail districts, hospitals, and other services. The corridor will also connect 21 different neighborhoods.
As Mayor Bell said, "That's what community is all about -- reaching out to others and letting everybody know that we're not isolated, but we're an organism that's connected on so many levels. This grant will allow us to make that connectivity visible for all of our people."One part of the work supported by the 2012 TIGER grant is in tornado-battered Pratt City. Shortly after the 2011 tornado, Secretary LaHood visited Pratt City to witness the destruction of the community's road network and promised to help residents restore their community.
Another key segment is on Center Street, part of the "March to Fair Housing" section of Birmingham's Civil Rights Heritage Trail. The March was one event in the pivotal year of 1963. From Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," to the marches, to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, 1963 Birmingham played an important role in our nation's history.
So it's fitting that --50 years later-- leaders broke ground to start this ambitious project in a neighborhood called "Dynamite Hill," the scene of several 1963 bombings.
It's also fitting that this TIGER project brings a wide range of partners together. As Administrator Mendez said, "Getting the TIGER grant was a real community effort involving government, the private sector and a host of dedicated stakeholders. It epitomizes what the TIGER program is all about, partners coming together to advance an innovative idea that didn’t come from Washington – but came from right here in Birmingham."
Improving transportation choices, reconnecting neighborhoods, stimulating economic development, and commemorating history--that's a terrific combination of dividends.
And that's why DOT is happy to be able to offer another round of TIGER grants in 2013. The application window has opened, and the deadline for submitting proposals is June 3. We’re making available $474 million and we know the competition for those funds promises to be strong.
But we also know that the projects that earn awards will --like Birmingham's Road To Recovery-- make a big difference in their communities.
getting the TIGER grant was a real community effort involving government, the private sector and a host of dedicated stakeholders.
This project epitomizes what the TIGER program is all about.
It supports an innovative idea that didn’t come from Washington – but came from right here in Birmingham