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The Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Council (COMSTAC) is meeting today at DOT.  There will be much to discuss, as the space launch industry has matured into a viable and profitable industry.

Last year, America recaptured global leadership with a banner number of launches.  This was a big change.  Just six years ago, in 2012, the United States was only third, behind both Russia and China.   Now, our space industry is not only number one, it is on track to set a new record for launches in 2018.

Being number one in space launches is not just a matter of national pride.  A recent study estimated that the 2017 launch market was worth almost $9 billion, and will triple in 7 years to more than $27 billion.

Space technology has the potential to transform the economy by enabling worldwide high-bandwidth communication services, near real-time Earth imaging, and hypersonic technology that can shuttle people into orbit or across the globe.  Lower cost space launch capabilities may even make it possible to harvest precious metals from asteroids.  The rocket launch industry will not only create good jobs – it will drive future innovation, just as it always has.

Falcon Heavy Rocket

(Falcon Heavy Boosters on Launch Pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.)

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This Memorial Day, I will be participating in a wreath-laying ceremony on board the decorated aircraft carrier, the Intrepid.  It earned its stripes in World War II, serving in the Pacific theater.  The ship’s toughest fights were in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  It also served in the Vietnam War.  The Intrepid played a role in the early space program, too, as a recovery ship for the Mercury and Gemini programs.  Today the aircraft carrier sits in New York Harbor as the centerpiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

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Each year, on May 22nd, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day.

Now in its 85th year, the U.S. National Maritime Day’s focal point is our people. In 1933, Congress declared May 22nd as National Maritime Day, to recognize the first successful transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion, which took place in 1819. Without mariners, the event would never have happened.

Maritime Day is a time-honored tradition that recognizes one of America’s most important industries. Ceremonies and celebrations throughout the country will recognize Maritime Day and the people our nation, surrounded by oceans, relies on. National Maritime Day is a day to pay special tribute to merchant mariners and to the benefits that the maritime industry provides to this country and to all who live here.

It was the merchant marine and American shipyards that were vital to victory in World War II. Of the over 250,000 members of the American Merchant Marine who served their country, more than 6,000 gave their lives. Hundreds more were detained as prisoners of war, and over 730 U.S. merchant ships were sunk or damaged.

Then, as now, the United States Armed Forces could not fight a war overseas without the merchant marine and commercial ships to carry the equipment, the ammunition, and the other supplies our men and women serving in uniform need.

The United States has always been a great maritime nation. From our origins as 13 British colonies, and through every period of peace and conflict since, the merchant marine has been a pillar of this country’s foundation of prosperity and security. The men and women of the merchant marine power the world’s largest economy and strengthen our ties with trading partners across the globe, all while supporting our military by shipping troops and supplies wherever they are needed.

Here in Washington, D.C. at the Department of Transportation’s headquarters, the Maritime Administration is sponsoring an observance of Maritime Day, a solemn ceremony honoring veterans of the merchant marine and those who gave their lives in service to the United States. That observance has been held every year since 1970, and I am proud to uphold tradition and honor the merchant marine in our ceremony today.

Merchant Mariner and WWII veteran, William E. Tiernan (center) is presented with several awards by USTRANSCOM Commander, General Darren McDew (left) and Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby (right).

Merchant Mariner and WWII veteran, William E. Tiernan (center) is presented with several awards by USTRANSCOM Commander, General Darren McDew (left) and Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby (right).

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All of us at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are proud to partner with state, local and tribal governments to encourage the use of state-of-the-art transportation innovations under FHWA’s “Every Day Counts” (EDC) initiative. We call EDC the “on-ramp to innovation,” and with good reason. We’re always looking for newer, better ways to keep Americans safe while they drive and save time in project delivery as well as taxpayers’ money.

Missouri – also known as the “Show Me State” – has spent the last decade becoming the nation’s leading champion of Diverging Diamond Interchanges (DDIs). Throughout my career, I have seen few safety improvements as effective as DDIs.

DDIs are great because they eliminate the need for expensive left- or double-left turn bays by allowing left-turning vehicles on the crossroad to make a free turn left directly onto the onramp. In short, they keep drivers safe by reducing the number of intersections or other places where collisions can occur.

MoDOT created the first DDI in 2009 on I-44 in Springfield, Mo. Within a year, it reduced injury-only crashes by 80 percent and all crashes by 53 percent. In the decade since, MoDOT has created 19 more DDIs. The latest addition to its “diamond” collection, at I-49 and 155th Street in Grandview, is an especially good example of better transportation because it uses a roundabout (another EDC innovation supported by FHWA) at one of the ramp terminals instead of a traffic signal. Mixing these two proven safety measures has led some to start calling the combination a “divergeabout.”

During this year’s Infrastructure Week, FHWA is underscoring the importance of innovation and the workers responsible for building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure. Kudos to workers in Missouri and across the country who are helping to build roads and bridges. Pleaseshow these hard-working men and women your thanks by driving safely when traveling through highway work zones.

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When the Wright Brothers first took off from the North Carolina coast, they never dreamed that Charlotte would be one of the country’s leading hubs for air travel a century later. It may surprise you to learn that Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is the second busiest airport on the East Coast and the sixth busiest in the United States. Last year, the FAA Air Traffic Control Tower at CLT handled more than 500,000 flights, and we expect that to grow to 745,000 flights in the next 15 years.

We’re getting ready to handle the projected growth by investing $112 million in a new air traffic control tower and radar approach control that will open in 2020.  This investment in our aviation infrastructure will allow us to handle the steadily increasing number of flights and passengers safely and efficiently for decades to come.  Last year, almost 22 million passengers boarded flights at CLT and we expect that to grow to 31.5 million people by 2033.

Air Traffic Controllers at the top of the 370-foot-tall tower will have bird’s-eye view of the airfield, including future infrastructure projects that the Airport is planning and that we’re studying right now.  The expanded tower cab will have enough room to accommodate more air traffic control positions, which we’ll add as the traffic grows. Last month we topped off the new tower by hoisting one of our most visible safety systems that allows controllers to track aircraft and airport vehicles on the airfield - Airport Surveillance Detection Equipment.

Air Traffic Control Tower Being repaired

(An Airport Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE) antenna was placed atop the new tower at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) to keep flights safe by providing radar coverage for aircraft and other vehicles that move on the airport surface.)

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All week, we at the FHWA and the USDOT are celebrating Infrastructure Week with our state and local partners. This weeklong observance is an opportunity to highlight not only the significance of America’s infrastructure but the people who made it possible.

Those involved in the design, planning, construction and maintenance of America’s 4.1 million miles of roads and bridges are too numerous to count, but a few notables stand out. For example, though he is not known for engineering, President Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. President to have a patent – for, of all things, a transportation improvement that expanded access to previously unnavigable waterways.

But among the contributions to America’s infrastructure, none are more significant than those of President Thomas Jefferson. While not an engineer, it was Jefferson who made possible our young nation’s first federally funded road project – what has since come to be known as “The National Road.”

Construction of the National Road began on May 8, 1811. Authorized by Congress in 1806 and signed into law by Jefferson, the road connected the Potomac River at Cumberland, Maryland, and the Ohio River at Wheeling, Virginia – which is now in West Virginia. Settlers hoping for better lives in the American frontier headed for Ohio, which had only recently become a state. By opening the door for thousands migrating west through the Appalachian Mountains, the National Road strengthened trade and communications lines from the East Coast to Ohio and beyond.

Bridge near the St. Louis Arch

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On Tuesday, May 15th, 20,000 officers, survivors of the fallen and guests will gather at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol for the 37th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service. This poignant service includes a reading of the Roll Call of Heroes, which will commemorate law enforcement officers who perished last year. Their names will later be added to the Wall of Remembrance at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. 

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As summer nears, it is evident in the garage at DOT headquarters that we count among our colleagues many bicyclists and motorcyclists.  For their sake and the benefit of all bicyclists and motorcyclists, May is National Bike Month and Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month and DOT will be helping expand the reach of these safety campaigns.  Sadly, there is urgent and ongoing need for these efforts. 

At DOT, we are working every day to make roads safer through infrastructure improvements, technology and greater public awareness of safe riding and driving practices.  State-level DOTs are also working hard to improve traffic safety.  Yet, in 2016, 840 bicyclists were killed in crashes in the U.S. – the most annual fatalities since 1991.  An estimated 60,000 bicyclists were injured.  5,286 motorcyclists were killed in crashes in 2016 – the most since 2008 – and an estimated 88,000 were injured.  Many of these injuries are very serious and life-altering.

Drivers of cars and trucks have a special responsibility to be on the lookout for and considerate of bicycles and motorcycles.  In crashes the laws of physics are harshest on those operating bicycles and motorcycles.  That’s the primary reason that in 2016, based on vehicle miles travelled, motorcyclist fatalities occurred nearly 28 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes. 

Bicyclists and motorcyclists should take care to exercise safer riding strategies, including:  1) wearing a high-quality helmet; 2) obeying traffic laws; 3) riding sober, and; 4) being constantly mindful that drivers may not see you (because of distracted driving and “blind spots” around vehicles).  In 2016, 41% of those killed on a motorcycle were not wearing a helmet.  Motorcycle riders involved (killed or survived) in fatal crashes in 2016 had higher percentages (25%) of alcohol impairment than any other type of motor vehicle operator.  Speed was a factor for 33% of motorcycle riders in fatal crashes.  About 20% of bicyclists killed in crashes had blood alcohol levels of .08 or more.  Since 1975, deaths among bicyclists 20 and older in motor vehicle traffic crashes have more than tripled. 

Talk to any experienced bicyclist or motorcyclist and they’ll likely have stories to recount of frightening close-calls or even crashes.  So let’s all remember to practice what we preach on safety – no distracted driving or riding and be constantly on the lookout for all road users to help keep them safe, too.  

Secretary Chao poses with cyclists in front of DOT Headquarters

Secretary Chao celebrates National Bike to Work Week with DOT bicycle commuters.

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Every year, Federal employees across the country are responsible for many noteworthy and inspiring accomplishments that are seldom recognized or celebrated. The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, known as the Sammies, highlight excellence in our federal workforce and inspire other talented and dedicated individuals to go into public service.

The Sammies are a highly respected honor with a vigorous selection process. Named for the Partnership for Public Service’s late founder who was inspired by President Kennedy’s call to serve in 1963, these awards align with his vision of a dynamic and innovative federal workforce that meets the needs of the American people.

Ariel Gold, the Data Program Manager for the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO) is one of only a handful of DOT employees over the past several decades who was named a finalist in a competitive field of outstanding nominations. In the 2018 Management Excellence category, Gold was nominated for “improved data sharing to accelerate the adoption of new technologies that increase transportation safety and efficiency, including self-driving cars and vehicles that communicate with one another”.

Ariel Gold Photo

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For many it’s clear that spring has sprung when the cherry blossoms emerge or the car is covered in pollen.  At DOT, no matter the temperature outside, you know it’s spring when the crowds arrive for the Washington Nationals’ first home game of the season.  For some of us in the Executive Branch, spring is near when your congressional oversight committees call wanting to schedule hearings.  For me, it’s also when I make reservations to go home for the Kentucky Derby.  In any event, at long last it is spring!        

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