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Remarks as prepared for Administrator Carnahan at the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center Ribbon Cutting Event on September 19, 2023

Thank you, Anne. I’m glad to be here with you, Under Secretary Monje, Governor Healey, President Kornbluth, Andrew Mayock, Mayor Siddiqui, Randy Beltre – from Senator Warren’s office – and representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, FEMA, Army North, and the city of Cambridge.

I’m so glad you could join us to celebrate and cut the ribbon on the new U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe National Transportation Systems Center because it’s a remarkable accomplishment. 

You’ll hear from the US Under Secretary of Transportation about how important this facility will be for executing on their mission… and President Kornbluth and Governor Healey already talked about the impact this space will have on both MIT and this community and state. 

So I want to take a moment to tell the story of how we got here.  How this terrific facility came to be…because successful projects like this don’t happen by accident…they take tremendous collaboration and partnership from folks across the public and private sector.  

Before I get into that, can everyone who’s been involved with this project stand up.  Come on…GSA, DOT and other federal teams, architects, developers, contractors, our partners from organized labor, city and state partners.  This has been a real team effort and the payoff for DOT, MIT, this community and taxpayers is profound.

For any of you who may be wondering what the US General Services Administration had to do with this, we’re the operations and delivery arm of the federal government. That means we’re responsible for the federal real estate portfolio of over 8000 properties across the country totaling nearly 370 million rentable square feet. So it’s our job not only to maintain, modernize buildings but also, when appropriate, to also sell properties on behalf of the federal government. 

As a result, we have terrific real estate professionals on our team.  And they’re constantly looking for creative ways to maximize the value of our assets… for our federal partners, the communities where we’re located and the American taxpayers. 

This location was first used in the 1960s as an electronics research center for NASA in the early days of the space program. After that, in 1970, DOT took it over and it’s been used as a transportation systems center ever since. It turned out to be a terrific location for both NASA and DOT because they were able to recruit scientists and easily partner with all the world-class universities in the neighborhood. 

Over time, the 6 original buildings and surface parking lots on this 14 acre site here in the heart of Cambridge just weren’t able to keep up with DOT’s mission needs. And it certainly wasn’t an optimal use of such prime real estate. 

So the GSA team got creative and decided to do an exchange agreement with MIT that would leverage the value of this prime real estate.  That agreement provided that MIT would get 10 acres of land and in return the government would get a new $750 million dollar state-of-the-art facility for use by the DOT, Army North and FEMA.  

We’ve already heard about MIT’s plans to transform those 10 acres into a mixed-use development that’ll include subsidized housing, retail space, lab and research facilities as well as a park and community center. President Kornbluth, I know we’re all eager to see how you’ll use this space to foster community, bolster innovation, and support the next generation of leaders and innovators. 

And, President Kornbluth, you should know that one of my mottos is “always be recruiting,” so I’m counting on you to help make sure your students know about the great opportunities in public service that await them across the federal government… and especially at GSA. 

Our team works closely with the communities where we’re located to ensure that our buildings not only inhabit the communities around them, but become part of them.

One way we do that is through public art. In fact, by law, GSA must set aside one half of one percent of every building project for public art.  As a result of those investments, GSA owns the nation’s largest public art collection, much of which is housed at federal buildings all across the country… from courthouses in Pennsylvania and Florida… to land ports of entry along our nation’s borders… to this building here.

Those investments in the GSA Art in Architecture program have been going on for 50 years and we’re more committed than ever to expanding opportunities to a broad array of artists and to ensuring our collection reflects the diversity of our country. 

Here at Volpe, Maya Lin and her team created an amazing installation. Lin’s perspectives on design, architecture, and art are legendary… and her contribution demonstrates her continued commitment to engaging, inspiring, and meaningful public spaces. For years now, she’s shaped the earth to give visitors an experience that combines science, history, and natural phenomena. These “waves” evoke indigenous mound-building, oceans and dunes, and the Doppler effect – which seems so right for a building dedicated to transporting goods and people all over the world.

I want to mention one other very special feature of this building that Andrew Mayock touched on a few minutes ago, and that’s its commitment to sustainability and efficiency.  This is a real world example of the federal government showing what’s possible when it comes to reducing the carbon footprint of its facilities.  President Biden has set out ambitious goals of powering our buildings with 100% Carbon Pollution Free Electricity by 2030… and transitioning our entire federal building portfolio to net-zero emissions by 2045.

With funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, we’re upgrading facilities across the country to make them more efficient, reduce energy consumption and cut costs.  And this new building is a great example of how we’re doing it. Listen to this…

  • The building design optimizes for great energy performance, including triple-paned glass, heat pumps, electric chillers, and rooftop solar panels. 
  • We expect this to help reduce fossil fuel energy by 57% while saving at least 12% of the total energy compared to a typical building.
  • We incorporated an Advanced Building Automation System to optimize the building’s energy use and enable the controlled environments needed for lab operations as well as the health and comfort of folks working in the building. 
  • We’ve used native and adaptive vegetation in green roofs and site landscape as well as smart irrigation systems and rainwater reclamation systems to reduce city water use by approximately 20%.
  • We added bike storage and underground parking, including spaces dedicated to green vehicles and carpools, as well as EV charging stations for both the federal fleet and employees.  
  • Plus, we’re working to make this building LEED Platinum.

We’re proud to add another state-of-the-art, sustainable building in the federal portfolio – and that’s a big deal. 

I often talk about sustainability being a triple win, and this is no exception. Through this project, we’ve created jobs in the community, saved taxpayer dollars, and ensured a healthier future for the next generations. 

Bottom line, this is a big win for DOT, a win for MIT, a win for the city of Cambridge, and a win for folks all across the nation. 

The GSA team is proud to have played a part in this success and look forward to more successful partnerships here and around the country.