Gabe’s NASTO Acceptance Speech (and commentary on the state of transportation)

(This is taken from Gabe Klein’s speech Tuesday, accepting the role of President for NASTO, the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials, which brings together representatives from the state transportation departments of the Northeastern United States and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec)

Hello Everyone,

There is so much experience in this room, I learn every time I listen to Al Biehler, George Campbell, Carol Ann Wicks,  Joe Marie [past NASTO presidents, State DOT CEOs] etc.  So it is a real honor to be made president of this historic, 100 year old organization, of which the District of Columbia has been a member since 1937.

So…about me:  I have been the DDOT Director for 1 .5 years.  Before this I spent much of my career in alternative transportation, car sharing, electric vehicles, and the bicycle industry. 

Because of my experience, there are certain perspectives I bring to the table.

Personal goals this year:

I hope to show:

 The nexus between sustainability, livability, fiscal responsibility, and economic competitiveness locally, regionally, and nationally as it relates to transportation and land use.   These ideals and programs are not and should not be at odds, but quite the opposite, work hand-in-hand.

Furthermore, tension between modes is unnecessary.  We are a multimodal society.  We as State CEO’s operate transportation “systems,” and each mode is a piece of that system.  Our job is to provide options to people and I think we can do more to mesh and layer these modes via sophisticated planning, marketing (often forgotten), and by utilizing existing technology that people have in their hands already.

We need a balanced system that reflects our environmental and livability goals, and I believe our financial realities (or have the courage to work to change those realities).   Most people are all things at one time or another – pedestrians, drivers, transit users, and cyclists, so these tensions or conflicts I believe are somewhat irrational, fear based vs. grounded in reality.  I hope we can work together to publically break down these false walls within our industry.

So back to the financial realities.  I do think that we need to reconcile our ability to spend on maintenance vs. new capacity.   We need to involve the public more in this conversation. 

We also need to look hard at the ROI for each initiative when prioritizing projects.  Delivering more efficiently, streamlining our DOT’s from planning to engineering.  Procurement and construction is essential now.  Continuous process improvement is a key to our success. 

 It seems to be more and more apparent that all states have different needs, regions have different priorities, and that funding flexibility needs to be increased and not decreased for states (flexing for transit, bike/ped, roads).  It’s also apparent that change needs to take place on various financial fronts, and I think we need to embrace it rather than fight it.  My belief is that we need to have honest, open dialogue locally and nationally.  It is okay to vocalize the differences that we have and also the priorities that we share. 

Do we have the answers yet?  Is a lot of this territory uncharted?  Do rural communities, suburban communities, and urban communities have differences, but also have a lot in common?  I think the answer to all three is yes.  Everyone needs transportation, and every person deserves a high quality of life.  The work that Pennsylvania is doing with Smart States really embodies this.

So. What can NASTO do in 2011? George Campbell, our new Vice President, and I have been kicking around some ideas and we will send out a survey to solicit your feedback.   Here are some of our initial ideas:

Broadly speaking, I think NASTO states can be national leaders in bringing people together, building bridges if you will with regard to the U.S. DOT Secretary Ray Lahood’s priorities, and show by example how the puzzle pieces fit together in the north east.

We can also talk about the potential of embracing the “Smart States” program as a region, which would send a message…

Why not have common standards for NASTO states with regard to utilizing recycled materials, and warm-mix asphalt.  Let’s set some aggressive goals, together.  George Campbell has also suggested looking at pricing and procurement opportunities in this area as well. 

I get so much out of these meetings every year.  It would be nice to have a passive way to share information on an ongoing basis.  So DC will look to put together a simple technology platform that facilitates collaboration, information sharing, benchmarking, and possibly even shared procurement opportunities for all the North Eastern states.  The purpose is to recognize while we all have limited time throughout the day it is still important to share experiences and advancements throughout the year in-between these conferences.  This would most likely be part of an enhanced website that we would undertake as well.

I also think that we need to take the message to the people, and would like to float the idea that we work with AASHTO [American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials - www.transportation.org] on a national public information campaign regarding the choices that we have before us, the financial pressures, our current investment in maintaining our infrastructure vs. what’s needed, as well as the limitations on new initiatives.  Then, how we would pay for increased levels of service if the public desires it: increased gas tax or VMT, that are needed to reinvest in transportation infrastructure at the levels that they do in Europe for instance, or do we just want to maintain…  We just cannot do both right now in America under the current system without borrowing money.  Let’s talk about educating the public as to the options people have, and let’s have a public debate.  We have millions of dollars in advertising space in Washington that we would donate to this campaign.  So we are talking about design and production costs.  I imagine other states do too.   

 Back to the theme for this year’s NASTO conference, “going green.”  Senator Carper quoted Einstein yesterday, he said “there is opportunity in adversity” and perhaps the economic and climate crises, together, will force the tough decisions that need to be made to save our planet.

 At any rate, lots to do, and George and I look forward to working with you for the next 12 months.

Thanks!

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