Saturday, July 2, 2016

Fast Lane: The Force of Our Innovation Is Strong

At the USDOT, we promote the safety of the traveling public. To do that, we’ve relied heavily on creativity. We’ve inspired a culture of innovation, and – to paraphrase a line from Star Wars – the force of our innovation is strong.  From unmanned aerial vehicles to bridge-inspecting robots, the marvels showcased in yesterday’s “Innovation Fair” here at USDOT headquarters proves that.
The Interstate system itself represents one of the greatest innovations in the nation’s history. A network of uniformly built roads connecting communities to each other makes us more than a nation – it makes our states UNITED.  When President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act into law in 1956, our highway system almost immediately became a 41,000-mile-long backbone for the world’s greatest economy, changing our nation for the better.
Roads were one of the most significant innovations among early humans, creating faster routes over difficult terrain, commerce where roads intersected, multi-lingual communities and so on. Despite our many advances, roads remain just as critical to modern living as they were to our ancestors thousands of years ago.
The initial investment of federal funds for the Interstate system was $27.2 billion – nearly the same as what it cost NASA to put a man on the Moon. But the investment has paid for itself hundreds of times over. America’s highway system made it easier to ship goods between the states, giving rise to some of the nation’s biggest companies, and making the U.S. one of the world’s largest consumer markets. 
The Space Shuttles – all six of them, over 135 missions – relied on highway technology as well. The shuttle’s Crawler-Transporters – two of the largest vehicles ever made – which slowly and carefully carried each space shuttle into position at the launch pad from their hangars carried these giant vehicles – said to be among the largest ever built, if not THE largest –  as well as the Saturn V rockets, parts of Skylab, the Hubble Telescope and even the International Space Station on short roads constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers with technical assistance from the Bureau of Public Roads (the precursor to the FHWA).

Administrator Nadeau looks on at a team of robotic bridge inspectors
From the robots and drones Secretary Foxx and I saw yesterday, to other innovations yet to be imagined, the interstate system played a key role in advancing our exploration of space and the innovative spirit it inspires will carry us well into the 21st century, if not beyond.  We are at now at a point in history where America must invest in, modernize, and rebuild our aging highway system. We must use the knowledge and innovation of today and the lessons of our historical successes and mistakes of the past – to reconnect, revitalize and restore communities in the process. 
We aren’t just part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. We are all part of a Department of Innovation. We are pushing the boundaries of creativity to ensure that the road system of tomorrow is better, faster, cheaper, and stronger than ever before.  From the robots and drones I showed Secretary Foxx yesterday, to other innovations yet to be imagined, the transportation world of tomorrow will be here before we know it. The force of our innovation is strong, and it is up to all of us to keep it that way.


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