September celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to amplify Hispanic Americans’ culture, history, and impact. The theme of 2023 is Latinos: Driving Prosperity, Power, and Progress in America. With a focus on transportation, we recognize Victor Mendez and Irene Rico for their work advancing the transit industry.
Victor Mendez served as the Federal Highway Administrator from 2009 until 2014. In this role, he developed policies to create tens of thousands of jobs in transportation to support 13,000 projects to improve the infrastructure of highways and bridges nationwide. The policies were focused on making transportation projects safer and more sustainable by hiring engineers, construction managers, and other professionals nationwide to get bridges and highways up to the new safety and efficient standards he created. He is credited for implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009, which funded $26.6 billion for bridge and highway projects nationwide. He launched Every Day Counts to expand innovation, technology, and sustainable policy for transportation projects.
With the success of his policies, Victor continued to impact transportation by serving as the 20th United States Deputy Secretary of Transportation from 2014 to 2017. As deputy secretary, he oversaw the daily operations of ten modal administrations (Railroads, Highways, Transit, Pipelines, ECT.) and over 55,000 United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) employees. He managed a $70 billion budget and maintained a focus on increasing safety, sustainability, and effectiveness, remained a key area of advocacy and leadership in transportation across the transportation sectors.
In September 2009, Irene Rico became the first Hispanic woman to head the Virginia Division of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Former Deputy Secretary Victor Mendez spoke about her expertise and experience during a press conference welcoming her to the position.
The text on the image reads: “Irene has distinguished herself as a leader and a valued member of the FHWA,” said Administrator Mendez. “Her experience – both as a skilled engineer and a talented manager – makes her the right choice for this important position. She puts people first and is a great role model for public service.” – Victor Mendez US Deputy Secretary of Transportation
Irene served in this capacity for five years, successfully allocating the $900 million federal aid program. She has 38 years of experience working for the FHWA as an area engineer in New Mexico and Director of Planning and Program Developer in Texas. In 2016, she was selected as FHWA’s Associate Administrator of Civil Rights, creating civil rights policy for transportation sectors, divisions, and agencies. In this role, she managed the implementation of civil rights action plans to improve Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VI Program, Contractor Compliance program, State Internal Equal Employment Opportunity and the Internal Equal Employment Opportunity program, and the Special Emphasis program. Throughout her career, she has remained committed to making transportation sustainable, equitable, and accessible for all.
We proudly honor Hispanic heritage and history as critical factors of American history. As reported by the Federal Transit Administration,
The text on the image reads: “Latinos are a crucial part of the transportation leadership and workforce nationwide. Hispanics make up the 2nd largest proportion of transportation workers. Their contributions have made American transportation possible, which is why we’re ensuring workers can access good-paying jobs that help build the safe, modern, and equitable infrastructure America needs.”
As we continue molding into a more inclusive society, we encourage you to share the stories of Hispanic leadership as a source of education and inspiration.
Learn More About Hispanic Leaders in Transportation: