U.S. Representative Mike Johnson (LA-04) today announced an opportunity for local municipalities to apply for $1 billion in federal grants to improve transportation infrastructure including roads, bridges, rail, transit, and ports. The funding will be provided through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grants program. Half of this grant funding will be designated to projects specifically in rural areas. Johnson also announced a Feb. 25 webinar on how to compete for the grants. For more information on how to register, click here. "This is a great opportunity for Louisiana communities to ensure our hard-earned taxpayer dollars are put to good use," said Johnson. "Poor road conditions are rampant across rural areas of the state and have cost us in dollars, jobs and productivity. These BUILD grants can be a means to change that and enable our communities to flourish." "BUILD grants will upgrade infrastructure across America, making our transportation systems safer and more efficient," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) joined US Dept. of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao today to launch a new USDOT human trafficking initiative. The following are excerpts of his remarks: Special thanks to Secretary Elaine Chao for her leadership in combatting the cruelty of human trafficking both in the eight years she served as Secretary of Labor, and now, at Transportation and for the Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking Initiative. Deep thanks as well to all the assembled leaders--for your commitment and effectiveness in this human rights and humanitarian cause. Truckers Against Trafficking have written the book on how to discern and disrupt human trafficking networks through training and referrals to law enforcement. You are the eyes and ears on the highways--thank you, Kendris. Human trafficking is a barbaric human rights abuse that thrives on greed, secrecy, a perverted sense of entitlement to exploit the vulnerable and an unimaginable disregard for the victims. Twenty years ago, the U.S. Congress approved and the President signed legislation that I authored--the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000--a comprehensive whole-of-government policy to combat sex and labor trafficking in the United States and around the world. This past January, I authored another bill that was signed into law by President Trump--my fifth major law on human trafficking-- The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act. The new law honors the extraordinary legacy of one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. Among its many "prevention" provisions, the Douglass Act provides grants to local education agencies in partnership with NGOs to establish, expand and support programs: to provide age-appropriate information to students on how to avoid becoming victims of sex and labor trafficking;to educate school staff to recognize and respond to signs of sex and labor trafficking. The law also requires General Services to ensure that any contract entered for the provision of air transportation with a domestic carrier submit the number of personnel trained by that carrier, notifications of number potential victims, whether they contacted the trafficking hotline or law enforcement. In 2010, I chaired a congressional briefing and heard compelling testimony and best practices from many leaders--including Nancy Rivard of Airline Ambassadors International. Yesterday I spoke to her in El Salvador where she is advising that government on airline training of flight attendants, pilots and other personnel akin to what was prescribed in the 2016 and 2018 FAA reauthorizations. To date, she organized 117 airport training seminars--including at New Jersey's Newark International and an OSCE multi-nation conference that I had proposed in Kiev, Ukraine. More than 100,000 aviation officials have been trained through the Blue Lightning Initiative. As we all know, children are especially vulnerable. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) one in four trafficking victims is a child. In 2008, I first introduced International Megan's Law. It passed the House in 2010, 2014, 2016--and, thankfully, finally cleared the United States Senate and was signed into law in 2016--eight years later! Megan Kanka of Hamilton--my hometown--was just 7 years old when she was kidnapped, raped, and brutally murdered in 1994. Her assailant lived across the street. Unbeknownst to her family and other residents in the neighborhood, he was a convicted repeat sex offender sexual predator. We know from law enforcement and media documentation that Americans on the U.S. sex offender registries are caught sexually abusing children in Asia, Central and South America, Europe, and, frankly, everywhere. A deeply disturbing 2010 report by the GAO found that at least 4,500 U.S. passports were issued to registered sex offenders in fiscal year 2008 alone. Typically, a passport is valid for 10 years, meaning some or many of the tens of thousands of registered sex offenders possessing passports may be on the prowl internationally looking to exploit and abuse. Now, under International Megan's Law, convicted child sex offenders who travel abroad must provide notice to the U.S. Government--via the Angel Watch Center--prior to departure of all planned destinations. Failure to do so carries a significant jail term commensurate with a convicted child sex abuser not reporting to local law enforcement. Upon receipt of the travel itinerary, the U.S. government informs the destination country or countries of those plans. The destination country or countries are then empowered with actionable information to render the traveler inadmissible. International Megan's Law also requires the passport of convicted child sex offenders to carry this endorsement: "The Bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212 (C) (I)." The law is working. In just about two years, 10,541 covered sex offenders had been noticed by the U.S. government to foreign countries--and 3,681 individuals as of July who were convicted of sex crimes against children were denied entry into those nations. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes who just spoke has not only pioneered an aggressive multifaceted strategy through his Utah Trafficking in Persons (UTIP) Task Force and prosecutors of the Utah SECURE Strike Force--but when I learned of his amazingly heroic and brilliantly planned and executed undercover 2014 sting in Cartagena, Columbia with Operation Underground Railroad in which he and others posed as sex tourists to disrupt three trafficking rings in three Columbian cities--and rescue 120 child victims, I was in awe. Mr. Reyes testified at one of my trafficking hearings in May of 2015 and as an undercover buyer he said he "saw up close the horror and helplessness in the eyes of young girls ages 10-16 after the drugs the traffickers had given them had worn off and they were paraded in front of us like a pet or a dessert to sample we transacted large amounts of cash, and captured on hidden cameras the disgusting things" the traffickers said could be done to these children. The AG and his team not only liberated 120 innocent girls and boys that day but trained local law enforcement. The rescued children shouted: "Thank you Americans, we love you Americans." For what you're doing here, children and victims of every age shout thank you.
Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday joined the U.S. Department of Transportation to officially announce that Alabama has been selected for two Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants totaling close to $132 million. USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao and the USDOT, in a wave of grant announcements today, shared that the state of Alabama would be allocated $6.87 million for an infrastructure project in Tuscaloosa and $125 million for the I-10 bridge project in Mobile. "Revitalizing our state's infrastructure is critical to moving Alabama forward, and I am grateful to Secretary Chao and the U.S. Department of Transportation for helping our state take another step to bring these projects to fruition," Governor Ivey said. "It is vitally important for us to engage our partners at every level -- federal, state and local -- to ensure we are effectively using our dollars, while making necessary enhancements to infrastructure in Alabama. I am proud to support the Trump Administration in their endeavor to not only make band-aid fixes, but to make substantial, long-term improvements to infrastructure." Both projects will employ innovation through intelligent transportation system (ITS). ITS aims to provide technology to coordinate services related to modes of transports, surveillance and traffic management. This innovative tool keeps roads safe during and after construction. ITS also is a valuable resource to assist with evacuations. "This significant federal investment is part of an overall program to repair and restore America's bridges to enhance safety and economic growth," Secretary Chao said. The $6.87 million INFRA grant to the city of Tuscaloosa will go toward replacing the University Boulevard/US 82 overpass structure. This enhancement, which is projected to cost $11.5 million, will lengthen and widen the overpass to create greater efficiency and safety. The Alabama Department of Transportation will coordinate with the city of Tuscaloosa on the movement of the project. "Grants like the DOT INFRA grant that have been awarded to the City of Tuscaloosa have allowed us to improve our roads and infrastructure in a timeline that we would not have been able to otherwise," Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said. "The improvements that we are able to make through grants like this have allowed us to position our community to bring in the jobs and industries of the future." ALDOT will direct the $125 million INFRA grant to the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project, which has a projected cost of more than $2 billion. The project includes a new cable-stay bridge over Mobile River, replacement of the existing I-10 Bayway Bridges and modifications to multiple interchanges across I-10. Ultimately, the new Bayway will provide eight lanes of travel across the Mobile Bay. The new Mobile River Bridge will have more than 215 feet of vertical clearance to carry I-10 across the Mobile Channel, permitting all types of maritime traffic in the Port of Mobile. The Federal Highway Administration regulations state that the Bayway needs to be raised above the 100-year storm surge level. Since the existing bridge cannot be raised, it must be replaced with a new structure. Given this change, the cost of the project increased from $850 million to the $2.1 billion total. "While I am thrilled to welcome this important funding from USDOT, our work is not done yet. This makes it ever clearer that we must continue working together to creatively find solutions for not only these two projects -- but also for other needed improvements across the state," Governor Ivey added. USDOT's INFRA grant program provides dedicated, discretionary funding for projects that address critical issues facing our nation's highways and bridges.