Public Papers

Remarks at the National Transportation Policy Meeting


Well, Sam, thank you very, very much. And Deputy Secretary Elaine Chao and to our able Commandant of the Coast Guard and to Dr. Larson, who did such heroic work on all of this, thank you all for being here -- Governor, so many Members of Congress here. And as some of you may know, after Sam Skinner, our able Secretary of Transportation, became Secretary, he took time to earn a license as a jet pilot. I've wondered: if I'd named him Secretary of Agriculture would he have been out milking the cows? [Laughter] But nevertheless, here he is.

But his leadership derives from experience. And it's experience and solid analysis that has shaped this transportation policy that we're unveiling today. No sector is more important to the American economy than transportation. It's an 0-billion-a-year business with trillion worth of assets. To say that it's important to our quality of life, the flow of commerce, and really to our national security, is a gross understatement. As world trade grows even larger, as we continue our leadership in an increasingly global society, we will become even more dependent on transportation than we are today. And when transportation lags or is congested, when people and goods are stranded in traffic or in airports, we'll suffer. And when people and goods flow through a responsive, well-maintained, and efficient transportation system, our quality of life improves with it.

For over 200 years, since the days of barges and riverboats, America has grown and prospered with our transportation system. Our competitive stake will depend no less on American transportation leadership in the future. And still, too often we take for granted the highways that bind America together, and the airports and harbors that bind America to the world. The institutions our forebears created, the technologies they developed, and the transportation systems they built created a new and mobile society far different from the life they knew. For example, as a young man, Dwight David Eisenhower had a vision of a nation united, of an America in which goods and people would flow from city to city, from State to State with great ease. And the vision of his youth became the reality of his Presidency.

Today, Eisenhower's vision of an interstate highway system, the most ambitious public works project in the history of man, is virtually complete -- a fitting tribute in this, his centennial year. Just as the Model T and the Kitty Hawk prepared the way for today's millions of cars and thousands of passenger jets, so it is now our turn to invest in America's future, to begin to create the transportation system of the 21st century. On the ground, over the waterways, and in the air and space, our mission for this decade and the next century is to build on our achievements, to link the nations of the world as we've linked the States of this great country.

The national transportation is our blueprint, if you will, for this new world. And as I said in the State of the Union last month, it's time to act and it's time to give our State and local governments the flexibility that they need to best use Federal funds. We also have a strategy for airports and for removing economic regulation of the trucking industry -- you heard the Secretary talk about those -- and most of all, we have a strategy to unleash the creative genius of American technology.

This technology took us to the Moon, and now it must make travel to space economical and commonplace. And this genius built a network of highways, and now we must support and encourage advanced technologies in the whole field of transportation, from magnetically levitated trains to intelligent vehicles and highways to advanced materials and engineering.

Finally, sometimes the best transportation policy means not moving people but moving their work. Last week in Los Angeles I spoke of the growing trend in this country toward working outside the office, a trend known as telecommuting. Millions have already found their productivity actually increases when they work nearer the people they're really working for: their families at home. The benefits in reducing congested highways and mass transit are obvious. Think of it as commuting to work at the speed of light.

As we look ahead, it's not enough to have a partnership between Federal, State, and local government. We must have the dynamic fourth partner -- and that's where many of you fit in -- the private sector. Such a partnership has already built a transportation system that is the envy of the world. And if we work together in this joint venture, America can continue to be the world leader in transportation.

I'm delighted to be with you. I want to congratulate the officials from the Department of Transportation. And now, let's go to work. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:41 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Deputy Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao; Adm. Paul A. Yost, Jr., Commandant of the Coast Guard; Federal Highway Administrator Tom Larson; and Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson of Kentucky.