Victor M. Mendez, U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway (FHWA) administrator, recently spent a day at Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center, to learn about Volpe's FHWA work portfolio and talk to staff about innovation. During the administrator's visit, Volpe experts briefed Mendez on a variety of efforts, including Volpe's role in the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) and efforts in economic analysis, professional capacity building, transportation planning, environmental stewardship, and program evaluation.
Mendez shared his perspectives on the challenges FHWA is currently facing and also spoke to the Volpe community about innovation. "One of my favorite topics is innovation," said Mendez. In today's world, with limited resources and safety challenges, there is a need to find ways to innovate the transportation industry and implement great ideas.
Mendez paved the way for just that when he launched Every Day Counts, an initiative designed to identify and deploy innovative technologies that shorten project delivery, enhance the safety of our roadways, and protect the environment. Every Day Counts is a partnership between the Federal Highway Administration, state DOTs, local governments, and the construction and consulting communities.
"The essence of good inventions is looking at the world in a different way—coming forth with new ideas and not necessarily new inventions," said Mendez, who spoke during Volpe's Straight from the Source lecture series on October 25. A key element of Every Day Counts is that it seeks innovative input from all employees, opening channels and providing a venue to bring new ideas to the table.
Every Day Counts is designed to shave years off the delivery process, including conventional highway projects, which take roughly 14 years to build. "People cannot wait 14 years, and I do not think we should have to wait 14 years to enjoy the benefits of a safer infrastructure," said Mendez.
A proponent of design-build, Mendez spoke about local communities knowing what works best for their projects, using the Fast 14 project as an example. Under Fast 14, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation replaced 14 bridges over a 10-weekend period. Traditionally, this would have taken three to four years to complete. This is the kind of innovation that we are looking for, he said. As a result of using the accelerated bridge construction approach, traffic congestion was minimized and safety was increased by working weekends: an innovative solution that helped improve people's lives.
Congress has taken notice of the innovative solutions offered by Every Day Counts and brought many of these ideas into MAP-21, a law authorizing $105 billion for surface transportation through 2014. It is anticipated that in the next 5 to 6 years, bridges will be built using a similar design-build approach rather than the traditional approach.
Our transportation system affects the lives of people every day and is a major economic driver in our country, Mendez said. One challenge that our system faces is that our workforce is facing a transition—the trend of more experienced people nearing retirement and leaving the industry. By making innovation part of the basic culture of transportation, though, it creates a culture that lasts and continues long after those that depart the workforce. It is important to address this issue by keeping the pipeline filled with talented people with innovative ideas.
Mendez concluded by saying that with limited resources, we need to improve to be better, work smarter, deliver transportation projects sooner, and encourage states to use new technologies. At a time when we are experiencing challenging constraints, Every Day Counts touches on creating jobs, maintaining infrastructure, enhancing safety, protecting the environment, and growing the economy.