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Radio Address About Proposed Transportation Legislation.

February 09, 1974

Good afternoon:

From the earliest days of our history, transportation has played a vital role in the progress of America. Clipper ships, canal boats, toll roads, and railroads fed the American economy, linked communities across our expanding Nation, and joined our Nation with the world. Mass production of the automobile, linked with the most advanced highway system in the world, has made us a nation on wheels.

We have the largest and most diverse transportation system in the world today. As our society shifts and grows and as our economy expands, we must ensure that the effectiveness of this system keeps pace with the changing demands placed upon it. In 'the past 5 years, we have made great forward strides in this effort.

We have completed major sections of the Interstate Highway System.

The Airport and Airway Development Act, passed in 1970, has provided significant new Federal financial assistance to our Nation's airports.

We have established a successful program aimed at eliminating air piracy.

We have acted to bring about dramatic reductions in transportation accident and fatality rates.

We have created Amtrak, a new corporation to improve passenger service on the Nation's railways, and last year there was a 14 percent increase in rail passengers.

We have increased Federal aid to urban public transportation to $1 billion a year-that is eight times the level of 1968-through the Urban Mass Transportation Act.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1970 marked the most comprehensive change in our approach to the problems of the U.S. flag merchant marine in almost 35 years.

Through the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973, we are permitting States and localities to use a portion of their Federal highway funds for public transit.

The Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 will permit a needed restructuring of the bankrupt railroads of the Northeast and Midwest into a streamlined, privately owned system.

While we have made encouraging progress, the job is not completed. These are some of the goals ahead:

We have to find ways to use our enormous transportation systems in a more flexible manner. In many cases, for example, these systems, such as our subways and our urban highways, are utilized at maximum capacity for 2 or 3 hours during the day and scarcely at all the remainder of the day.

In the last 10 years, we have become increasingly conscious of the effects of our transportation systems on our environment. We must now give equal attention to the need for energy conservation as we design and utilize those transportation systems.

And finally, Federal regulation has served to restrict the growth of some of our systems at the expense of others, with the result that we do not have sufficient balance in the choice of transportation available to us.

Our efforts must continue to concentrate on achieving the goals of flexibility in the use of our transportation systems, economy in the use of our energy resources, and balance in the availability of diverse forms of transportation.

To achieve these goals in the areas of urban and rural public transportation, I will send to the Congress next week a unified transportation assistance program. This program would authorize $16 billion in Federal assistance for metropolitan and rural transportation over the next 6 years. Two-thirds of this amount would be allocated to State and local governments for application in areas where they believe this money can be spent most effectively.

Local officials, who understand your community better than anybody here in Washington, would determine transportation priorities, choosing between construction of highways or public transit systems, or the purchase of buses or rail cars. This would provide for flexibility between capital investments and other expenses.

The unified transportation assistance program will mark the largest Federal commitment ever to the improvement of public transportation in our cities and towns. Its objective is to provide you with diverse forms of public transportation that take into account the need for transportation without environmental damage, without wasted energy, and if possible, without congestion.

Let me turn now from the problem of transportation within our cities to the problem of transportation between our cities.

A healthy rail system is essential to the development of a balanced transportation system.

Nothing has hindered the economic health of our Nation's rail systems more than the outmoded and complex Federal regulations which govern those systems. These regulations have prevented the railroads from maintaining a competitive position with other forms of transportation.

The collapse of the Penn Central Railroad is ample evidence of the wrongheadedness of this approach. While we cannot afford to let our railroads fail, neither can we afford to bail them out every time they get in trouble. Our economy cannot afford it, and our taxpayers will not tolerate it.

If we are to revitalize our railroads, we must shift the focus of our concern from outmoded rules to economic realities. We cannot meet jet-age transportation requirements with horse-and-buggy regulations.

The inability of our railroads to compete with other forms of transportation has seriously affected this vital industry. The railroads often cannot afford to make necessary improvements in tracks, terminals, and equipment. The result has been a steady deterioration of service.

To modernize and revitalize our system of rail transportation, I will submit to the Congress next week the Transportation Improvement Act of 1974. This act is aimed at restoring this Nation's railroads to their proper place in the national transportation system.

The proposal would authorize $2 billion in Federal loan guarantees to help railroads invest in their tracks, their terminals, and their equipment. These loan guarantees are not a signal that we intend to provide public handouts to our railroads. They are, on the contrary, intended to restore the railroads to a position in which they can once again compete economically with other methods of transportation and, thereby, support themselves without Federal assistance.

But this cannot happen until we adjust the Federal regulations which created the problem in the first place. Therefore, the transportation improvement act would significantly overhaul Federal regulations governing rail freight carriers. In addition, it would eliminate the practice of discrimination through taxation which has further contributed to the economic problems of our railroads.

One of the most significant moments in our history occurred in 1869 when the Union Pacific Railroad, building west from Omaha, met the Central Pacific, building east from Sacramento. The joining of our Nation in this manner opened a whole new era of economic growth for America. Today our railroads are more necessary than ever. They make extremely efficient use of fuel with little negative effect on the environment, and they deliver nearly 35 percent of the Nation's freight at low cost. The essential tracks are there, the system that crisscrosses the country with a web of steel rails is in place. Now we must make it work again.

As we act to improve our urban and rural transportation and to restore our national rail system, we must not neglect those parts of our national transportation systems that have proved successful.

And chief among these is our highway system, which is among the very best in the world.

Today, the Interstate Highway System stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific. By the early 1980's, when completed, this system will carry over 20 percent of all highway traffic.

Our programs for highway safety are continually being improved, and funding for State and community highway safety programs will be increased both to encourage State enactment of mandatory seat belt legislation and to get the drunk driver off the road.

In air transportation, we have provided $1.5 billion in Federal assistance to airports since 1970 to expand and modernize their service. Our civil aviation security program has been an unqualified success, and today the American air traveler can board his plane more secure in the knowledge that he will reach his destination free from the threat of hijacking. This program will be continued, and it will be strengthened.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard will be giving increased attention to the safety and environmental protection of our rivers and our harbors and seacoasts.

We will also continue our programs to rejuvenate America's maritime fleet.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1970 marked the most comprehensive change in our approach to the problems of the U.S. flag merchant marine in 40 years. We have challenged our ship construction industries to rebuild our fleet at reasonable expense and our ship operating industry to move toward less dependence on subsidy. At the same time, we will continue to provide all essential support to make this transition possible. These efforts to date have resulted in private orders for ships reaching a record high of $2.4 billion, while ship construction subsidy rates have dropped to their lowest rate in history.

Today, more than ever, the quality of American life and the growth of our economy is dependent upon our ability to move people and goods rapidly, safely, comfortably, and efficiently.

The programs that I have outlined for you this afternoon are designed to ensure that America's transportation system keeps pace with our needs.

Finally, this afternoon, let me add just a few words about the work stoppage by independent truckers which has attracted so much attention during the past week.

We should recognize that truckers have faced special hardships arising from the energy crisis. Some have been unable to obtain sufficient fuel supplies to operate on a continuing basis. And many have been caught in an economic squeeze because of the costs of their fuel, which have been rising sharply, but the rates which they could charge to their customers were frozen.

Your Government has now acted to provide relief for the truckers, which redress their legitimate concerns. We are making more diesel fuel available to them, assuring that we will take every possible step so that their supplies will be equal to 100 percent of their needs. And with the help of the Congress, we have also pushed through a new law which permits the truckers to recover their increased fuel costs immediately. [Public Law 93-249, approved February 8.]

The events of these past few days have shown once again that when industry or any segment of the American economy has acute problems because of the energy crisis, the Federal Government will act promptly to find a responsible and just solution. This will continue to be our policy in the future.

But in no instance will we tolerate violence from those with grievances. Those who willfully break the law can expect no sympathy from those who enforce the law. We intend to enforce the Federal laws, and we will give State and local officials the assistance they need to enforce their laws.

It is important to emphasize that during the recent stoppage, despite the threats of violence from a handful of desperadoes, at least 80 percent of the Nation's truckers, to their very great credit, stayed on the job. I want to commend those truckers and all of their leaders, such as Frank Fitzsimmons, who heads the country's largest single union, the Teamsters, for their responsible actions during this period.

At the urging of several leaders of the independent truckers, who recognize that the actions taken by the Government are just and are reasonable, many of the trucks are already back in operation, and our highways are generally free from violence.

And now it is time to get all the trucks back on the road.

The trucking industry plays a critical role in our economy, and it is essential that the truckers continue to provide food, fuel, and other supplies to all Americans.

Thank you and good afternoon.

Note: The President spoke at 3:07 p.m. from a room adjoining the Oval Office at the White House. His remarks were broadcast live on nationwide radio.

An advance text of his address was released on the same day.

Richard Nixon, Radio Address About Proposed Transportation Legislation. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/256317

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