March 16, 2009
Sec. LaHood Addresses Legislative Conference
By SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
In his first speech before APTA members as the U.S. DOT secretary, during the APTA Legislative Conference in Washington, Ray LaHood told a packed audience: “The Obama administration gets it.”
Tom Lucek, general manager of CityLink in LaHood’s hometown of Peoria, IL, introduced the secretary, saying he “truly understands how transit stimulates the economy, how we can conserve energy, and how we can improve the environment, and how we can affect the quality of our lives.”
LaHood reminded attendees that President Obama routinely traveled by bus growing up in Hawaii and Vice President Joe Biden commuted by Amtrak between Washington and his home in Delaware for over 30 years. “We don’t have to educate them on the value of public transportation,” he said.
In noting the $8 billion for high speed rail through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding, the secretary emphasized that this amount is more than DOT has ever had before, and that he has assembled a team of DOT officials to track and monitor the money. “This money was put in by the president personally because he believes in it,” he said, adding: “The president sees this as an investment that will be part of his legacy to reduce our carbon footprint, and all these funds will be 100% fully federally funded—a “win-win.” With ARRA containing both the high speed rail money and $8 billion for public transit, the secretary urged APTA members to thank their respective members of Congress for their work in crafting this legislation.
Among other topics covered in his remarks was transit-oriented development: “We know that healthy transportation systems are essential to getting our economy running. Livable communities will be an area we’ll work on very extensively. People want to live in areas where they don’t have to hop in a car to get where they’re going—and you’ll be a part of that.” The audience applauded that last comment.
During the question and answer segment that focused on applications for ARRA funding (for example, do we start thinking about filling out applications now – or wait?), La Hood’s response was: “Stay tuned. I want to be open-minded of going into authorization with the right idea about operational money – and we’ll try to make the case.” This response also elicited sustained applause.
Another question focused on whether to raise the gasoline tax. “The Highway Trust Fund is a 20th century funding mechanism,” he said, “so we need to think outside of the box, with new and creative ways” to aid public transportation, including public-private partnerships.
LaHood closed by discussing the forthcoming transportation authorization bill. “We’re going to meet with smart people in our department and develop principles for authorization,” he said, “and then send them to the president.” He added: “We will be full partners at DOT with all of you with your efforts to continue the progress that we already started and are continuing, and we look forward to working with you.”