September 9, 2013
When it comes to the future of transportation, the road building and construction materials industries should “dream big and build big to create a system that will meet the needs of future generations,” said Federal Highway (FHWA) Administrator Victor Mendez as he addressed the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) National Convention on September 9 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Mendez admitted that developments within the federal government don’t meet the layman’s definition of “fast” but did point to two programs that have put more dollars into roads: Transportation Infrastructure Financial Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans and Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.
Through the TIGER grant program, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently awarded $474 million for 52 grants in 37 states, but the number of applications far exceeded the number of awards that could be made. The difference between the two indicates the need for additional funding, but also “goes to show that when people get innovative and creative, things can happen,” Mendez said, noting that the TIGER grants have filled a need for multi-modal projects that didn’t neatly fit into USDOT’s existing structure. “Currently, we’re very siloed,” he added.
As the industry eyes the next transportation bill, a key component will need to be project management.
“We need to get serious about how to improve our system in the future,” Mendez said.
Since 2008, $41 billion has been transferred from the federal government’s general fund into the Highway Trust Fund. Developing sustainable funding mechanisms will certainly be a focus of the upcoming legislation, Mendez said, adding that he doesn’t believe “there is one silver bullet that will solve everything.”
Mendez challenged meeting attendees to bring forward new innovations and new ideas and even share old ideas that have not yet been shared on the federal level.
“We can’t do this alone. There isn’t one person, one entity alone that can move this forward,” he said. “Continue to think about new ways to do things better, faster, and smarter.”