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Thursday, 8 May, 2008 10:00 PM

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters Calls for Highway Improvements

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Mary Peters addresses the Detroit Economic Club on Monday.

by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

DETROIT -- Mary Peters, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, addressed the Detroit Economic Club on Monday and said our nation's transportation network is old, outdated and facing challenges. She offered solutions on how local, state and national leaders can use new technology and approaches to update our highways and roads. Americans are spending more time than ever being stuck in traffic bottlenecks and now is the time to make some important changes for the future.

Mary Peters was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the 15th Secretary of Transportation on September 30, 2006. Prior to that, she worked in Phoenix as the national director of transportation police and consulting at HDR, Inc., a major engineering firm. Peters led the Federal Highway Administration from 2001 to 2005. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Phoenix and attended Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government Program for State and Local Government Executives.

"Imagine with me a time in the future when transportation doesn't present some of the challenges it does today," said Peters at the meeting of the Detroit Economic Club. "Imagine with me that we could live in a time when traffic actually flows along the Lodge and the mixing bowl during rush hour. How about living in a time when transportation projects are built that actually address the needs of automakers in Detroit and steel manufacturers in Jackson."

President Eisenhower proposed the national highway system in 1956. Peters said the goal was clear: "build the interstate and connect the country and we did.

"Since that task was accomplished more than a quarter of a century ago, our federal surface transportation program has lost its sense of direction. It's become a breeding ground for earmarks and is burden by the proliferation of special interest programs, goals and requirements."

Peters said there are 108 different programs administered by five different agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation. She said traffic congestion has increased by 300 percent over the last 25 years. Billions of dollars have been thrown to the wrong areas such as bridges and roads that carry a small amount of traffic. Peters said the current system is inefficient at fixing today's problems such as reducing traffic and long commute times.

"Detroit feels the impact, I think, more than most," the secretary said. "As poor performing highways make driving less enjoyable and less reliable as a form of transportation and there's no greater symptom of the failure of our current policies than the fact that public confidence in our transportation policies has collapsed."

She said that Americans are concerned that if gas taxes are raised, their commutes will not get any better. Peters agreed and said that fuel taxes are ineffective and are widely unpopular. But she said it is the way our nation funds surface transportation projects.

"There's an even further disconnect between the gas tax increases and the aggressive new CAFE standards, the fuel economy standards, that we announced last month. I want to thank the automakers for their support and willingness to help make this very ambitious but very achieveable plan succeed."

Peters said we have achieved numerous national goals. First, America has cut its fuel consumption by saving 55 billion gallons of fuel. The U.S. has also reduced tailpipe emissions and saved over $100 billion in fuel costs. She said our country has reduced traffic fatalities. In Michigan, the number of traffic related deaths is down by 25 percent over the last 10 years and severe injuries have been cut in half.

The secretary said Congress made the mistake of calling for higher fuel economy and higher fuel taxes at the same time. She said the U.S. government needs to get its act together and focus on what's important.

Peters outlined her plan for the future of transportation projects in America:

  • Eliminate earmarks and seticides and refocus on areas that are in the national interest
  • Safety must be America's most important goal
  • Focus on improving two-lane highways
  • Improve performance of interstate highway system and major corridors

Every year, more than 42,000 people are killed on America's roads. A quarter of all miles traveled in the United States takes place on the interstate system. Peters said: "they are aging -- they're over 50 years old and are in badly need of repair."

"We can as much as we did with welfare reform in the 1990's, say that it is time for transportation reform that encourages innovation rather than stifling renovation. The federal government’s role in transportation should not simply be to pass out the cash. It must instead encourage new investment, stimulate new innovation, and produce real results – results that make a difference to you in your personal life and in your professional life."

The secretary said Michigan can tap into $400 billion of private sector funding for transportation projects. The only thing standing in the way of these funds are approval from Lansing.

Vice Chairman of North Central Deloitte, LLP, Thomas Dekar was the presiding officer of this meeting of the Detroit Economic Club held at Burton Manor in Livonia.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

An estimated 250 people attended the meeting of the Detroit Economic Club on Monday.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

D.E.C. President and Ceo Beth Chappell welcomes everyone.

 

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