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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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April is officially National Safe Digging Month, which provides a vital opportunity to highlight the importance of safe digging and excavation as an everyday practice. As the seasonal changes of spring encourage more outdoor activities and projects, from landscaping to mailbox and patio installation, safe digging is critical. Excavation damage is the leading cause of serious pipeline incidents and has led to injuries, environmental damage, and even death.

Although excavation and pipeline damage is the foremost cause of pipeline incidents, it is also the most preventable. The number one tool for prevention is to call 8-1-1 or log onto clicks 811.com. This nationwide toll-free one call notification center has proven to be the most effective community resource in preventing excavation-related damage, and remains the mandatory first step in preparation of any digging or excavation project. Calling or clicking 811, at least 48 to 72 hours before any digging or excavation project, can confirm the location of intricate underground systems including hazardous liquid, natural gas and water pipelines, as well as electrical power lines, cables, telecommunication alarm systems, and sewer drains.

Industry data tells us that someone who breaks ground without calling 8-1-1 damages an underground utility line every six minutes…10 times per hour…240 times per day. Research confirms that if someone calls 8-1-1 before they dig, they have a 99 percent chance of not causing an unfortunate, costly incident.

Safe Digging Checklist Call 8-1-1

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Summer and fall are the peak seasons for road construction to make needed improvements on our nation’s highways and streets.  Road work can be a very dangerous occupation as motor vehicles are speeding by, too often in excess of posted speed limits, with drivers distracted and not focused on the road around them.  In 2016, 143 construction workers were killed by motor vehicles in road work zones.  This loss of life is tragic and preventable, primarily by drivers being more careful. 

Nearly 800 people were killed and tens of thousands injured in road work zones in 2016.  Most of these fatalities were drivers and passengers. Approximately 15-20% of road work zone crashes involve non-motorists – pedestrians and bicyclists.  Rear-end crashes are the most common type of work zone crash and typically take place on roads with speed limits greater than 50 mph. 

30 percent of work zone crashes involve large trucks.  The stopping distance for a large truck travelling at 55 mph is almost 50 percent greater than that needed for a car.  Truck drivers need to be especially careful.   And it should go without saying that if you’re in a 3000-lb car, it is unwise, as well as rude, to race to cut in front of an 80,000-lb truck. 

National Work Zone Awareness Poster 2018 Everybody's Responsibility

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U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao lauded the many achievements of U.S. women in transportation during Celebrating Women in Transportation: Land, Air and Sea, a Women’s History Month (WHM) program at DOT headquarters.  The Department partnered with the Virginia Tech Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) student chapter and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) to produce the event.

“The Department is committed to helping build the next generation of women leaders in transportation,” said Secretary Chao. In 2015, 1/3 of women had a B.A. or higher, compared with only eight percent of women holding B.A. degrees in 1967, And, across DOT, the Secretary noted, 160 women occupy executive positions.

In addition to Secretary Chao’s remarks, the event featured a panel of women senior leaders from the Department who shared how their career journey and lessons learned along the way, how US DOT evolved over the years and what the next generation can do to advance at US DOT and in the world.

Moderated by Anne Audet, Deputy Director with the Departmental Office of Human Resource Management Office of the Secretary, the leadership Panel included Federal Transit Administration Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Heidi King, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Cathy F. Gautreaux, Federal Highway Administration Acting Administrator Brandye Hendrickson, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Drue Pearce, and DOT Chief Information Officer Vicki Hildebrand.

Secretary Chao addresses attendees at Women in History Event

U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine L. Chao addresses attendees. during Celebrating Women in Transportation: Land, Air and Sea, a Women’s History Month (WHM) program at DOT headquarters on March 13 (photo, courtesy of OST photography)

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When disaster strikes, time is of the essence. Every minute, hour, and day matters when making damage assessments in the aftermath of a powerful hurricane, flood, or storm. Technology saves time and can be critical to efforts to get roads and bridges open to traffic again after a natural disaster, especially when the damage is widespread and difficult to access.

That’s why the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed an app to replace detailed, time-consuming paper surveys and inspection reports on the damage required under the agency’s Emergency Relief (ER) and Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads (ERFO) programs.

FHWA’s “Mobile Solution for Assessment and Reporting” (MSAR)  app, available for download from the Apple app store and other online app stores, is designed to simplify laborious and time-consuming data collection for FHWA, state Departments of Transportation, Federal Land Management agencies, and Tribal government engineers. Most importantly, it allows them to gather data in the field by downloading the app to a cell phone or tablet, making the process faster and easier by shortening a process that once took about 18 hours to 20 minutes, and saving taxpayers an estimated $1.2 million per disaster. 

Traditional survey and inspection reporting requires cumbersome paper forms and maps, tedious spreadsheets, and the use and storage of paper maps, cameras, and other outdated tools – including tiresome data entry.

The MSAR system makes the process much easier – and faster – for trained professionals. It allows photos of the damage to be easily pinpointed on a map, often with estimated locations and identified by an inventory number. The estimates, photos or videos, and location maps are later compiled by state offices to be sent to FHWA emergency relief coordinators. The data is verified and, if need be, updated and sent via email back and forth. While still a complex data gathering effort, MSAR makes it much faster and more cost-effective.

Screenshot of App near construction helmet and safety vest

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On Sunday, March 11 at 2 a.m., much of the nation will move their clocks forward – as we “spring ahead” to Daylight Saving Time (DST).

Did you know that the DOT and DST have a shared history that began with the railroad industry?

In 1883, U.S. and Canadian railroads adopted a four-zone system to govern their operations and reduce the confusion resulting from some 100 conflicting locally established “sun times” observed in terminals across the country.

Local decisions on which time zone to adopt were usually influenced by the time used by local railroad companies. States and municipalities then adopted one of the four zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific Time zones. 

In 1918, Congress passed the Standard Time Act (STA), marking federal oversight of time zones and establishing boundaries between the standard time zones in the continental United States so that more standardized railroad schedules could be published.
 
DOT assumed responsibility of administering the STA from the Interstate Commerce Commission, when the Department was established by a congressional act October 15, 1966.

Today, DOT oversees the nation’s time zones and the uniform observance of DST, including exercising authority that allows a state to change its official time zone.

Some states and U.S. territories do not observe DST, but its multiple benefits are still widely recognized.
You can read more about DST here.

Train Locomotive moving down the tracks

Local decisions on which time zone to adopt were usually influenced by the time used by local railroad companies.

Continue Reading The Railroad Industry' ››
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