Ray LaHood Officially Announces Retirement As Transportation Secretary

Jan 29th, 2013 | Posted by

After several months of uncertainty and more than a few conflicting statements, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today he is leaving his post this year:

I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.

LaHood has been a fantastic Transportation Secretary. In the first weeks after President Obama’s 2008 victory, transportation advocates made many wishlists for this post, including people like New York City’s transportation director Janette Sadik-Kahn. Instead Obama chose a largely unknown Illinois Republican Congressman, Ray LaHood. My first reaction was that the pick was troubling and that he appeared to not be a fan of high speed rail.

Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.

Ray LaHood turned out to be a fantastic Transportation Secretary, and one of Obama’s best Cabinet picks overall. LaHood pushed hard for mass transit projects, but it was high speed rail where his influence was most strongly felt. LaHood championed high speed rail projects across the country, starting with the $8 billion in HSR funding that came in the February 2009 stimulus. He refused to back down in early 2011 when Tea Party governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida wanted to kill HSR projects but keep the money for freeways. LaHood refused and gave most of that money to California.

While Jerry Brown may be the father of California high speed rail, Ray LaHood has been its guardian angel – and sometimes, its guard dog. He pushed back hard on Congressional Republican efforts to gut HSR funding. He also stared down anti-HSR legislators in Sacramento who wanted to go back on California’s own HSR plan, refusing their pleas to allow California to monkey around with the state’s $4 billion in federal HSR funds. LaHood held firm and charted a clear and strong course for the California high speed rail project and deserves immense credit for his hard work in helping see that project through its crucial years between the 2008 bond vote and the 2013 groundbreaking.

If someone wanted to name a California HSR trainset after Ray LaHood, I would not mind.

So who will succeed LaHood? Speculation remains rife that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a strong candidate for the job. Former US Senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, has also been floated, though that’s probably a longshot. Governing Magazine had a long list of potential replacements back in November, including such Californians as Steve Heminger of the MTC and Will Kempton of OCTA.

My guess is that Villaraigosa has a strong chance at this, and he would be an excellent choice. As mayor he was a strong advocate in support of mass transit, helping win funding for a dramatic expansion passenger rail in Los Angeles. He is a strong supporter of California high speed rail, and has also done much for making LA more bike friendly.

President Obama is also a strong backer of high speed rail, so we don’t have to worry that with LaHood gone, the administration will somehow become less HSR-friendly. I’m sure Obama will make a good pick here, but from the perspective of California HSR, it would be particularly awesome to see Villaraigosa get the job.

Still, this is Ray LaHood’s day, and I want to thank him for his strong leadership for the California high speed rail project. His support has been crucial, and it will never be forgotten.

  1. BMF from San Diego
    Jan 29th, 2013 at 21:05

    Sorry to see him go! I felt he was a tremendous positive influence for alternative transportation. I hope remains in the transportation field.

    VBobier Reply:

    Me too, but the decision was Ray LaHood’s to make, this will be one sane Repaublican that will be missed.

    VBobier Reply:

    Should be ‘Republican’, oopsie.

    BMF from San Diego Reply:

    Correct. Sorry to see him “leave.”

    VBobier Reply:

    Me too, but I guess He thought it was time to retire, He at least said He’ll stay on until His replacement is confirmed, which isn’t too bad.

    StevieB Reply:

    Obama asked LaHood to stay: “He asked me to stay. I’ve given it a lot of thought. The bottom line is I’ve been in public service now for 35 years,” LaHood said. “I believe in going out while they’re applauding. It’s a combination of talking it over with my wife and the fact that this was the right time to go.”

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/01/lahood-resignation-transportation-86859.html#ixzz2JTWqEMaO

  2. jimsf
    Jan 29th, 2013 at 21:38

    I’d like a californian to get the job for sure.

    VBobier Reply:

    We’ll just have to wait and see who President Obama favors, as the ball is now in His court.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Villaraigosa is one of the names floated. Even with his support for Tehachapis, it’d be net good to find money for completing the IOS.

    joe Reply:

    Outside chance but He’s losing two women and is under criticism for recent male appointments.

    So maybe.

    While working for Wise, Hersman dealt with a series of coal-train derailments near Point Pleasant, West Virginia. In 1999 she left Wise’s office to join the staff of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
    As a Board member, Hersman has traveled with NTSB investigating teams to 19 major accidents, ranging from the collision of two Washington D.C. Metro trains to the mid-air collision of a sightseeing helicopter and single engine plane over the Hudson River in New York City.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    NTSB? You mean the assholes that blame trains for every car-train collision even when the car was clearly at fault?

    n bluth Reply:

    Man, you Euro-minded transit folks really like to shit on American bureaucrats and civil service workers (see anything posted by Richard Mlynarik, though he’s in a whole other category of hate and intolerance). As if the NTSB is some monolithic organization dedicated to destroying rail travel. The workers at NTSB are just people trying to make a living. Blame our policy makers, not the ones who are simply doing their jobs and carrying out the goals set forth for the NTSB by our Congress.

    joe Reply:

    Yes. Human error is part of safety – not an excuse.
    Drivers will make mistakes and that error is part of the system. Deal with it.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Drivers make mistakes; so that makes it the train’s fault?? Is that what you’re saying?

    joe Reply:

    Any sensible discussion of safety has to include human error. Drivers are quite unreliable. Blaming drivers for being unreliable is non-responsive.

    The Caltrain/Car death at Charleston/Alma in Palo Alto was driver error. The women who died was from out of town and from all descriptions a very good and reasonable person. She was confused by the crossing and was hit. The city recognizes the crossing is confusing and they admit they have to deal with that and two other crossings.

    It’s a correctable problem by fixing the crossing. Blaming that women or the 12 year old girl who died there several years ago when on her bike is not dealing safety or at all serious.

    Joey Reply:

    I think you’re misunderstanding. When a train and a car collide, the NTSB concludes that the train needs stronger lateral strength. It has nothing (in their opinion) to do with the crossing, which would be reasonable. See here.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    I think you’re misunderstanding.

    You’re attempting to use analysis, not GilroyThink(tm)

    joe Reply:

    @Joey – that’s a different issue.

    Alon wrote:

    NTSB? You mean the assholes that blame trains for every car-train collision even when the car was clearly at fault?

    “Every” means “every” – not selected counter examples.

    Jonathan asks:

    Drivers make mistakes; so that makes it the train’s fault?? Is that what you’re saying?

    I gave a reasonable example of the rail crossing despite it being driver error and not the train or rail.

    This (below from your link) is different and no I don’t agree with any blanked response to any problem.

    No matter what the primary cause of a fatal railway accident may be, the NTSB recommendation is always going to be “build the railcars like tanks.” That is their mindset.

    I also don’t think that concern disqualifies the head of the NTSB from being nominated to the Sec of Trans.

    @Richard – I hope what’s bothering you gets resolved. I suggest you try to poop and see if you fell less grump.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joe, I was talking about that case, yeah. I don’t get how the sentence I wrote can be parsed to mean “every car-train collision is the car’s fault,” but I’m not a native speaker, so maybe I’m missing a linguistic subtlety of the same kind that leads people to write “it’s” when they mean “its.”

    And yes, this concern is a blot on an NTSB head’s qualifications, just as the FRA’s bad regulations are a blot on the qualifications of present and past heads.

    joe Reply:

    Okay – a misunderstanding. I don’t know those details in the exemplar Joey mentioned.

    Still I disagree that this issue disqualifies her or is a big concern.

    And yes, this concern is a blot on an NTSB head’s qualifications, just as the FRA’s bad regulations are a blot on the qualifications of present and past heads.

    She didn’t create that policy (right?) and probably hasn’t the clout and resources (do studies and propose alternatives) to change it unilaterally.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t think it’s an automatic disqualifier, but it does raise questions. If it turns out she was a force for change at the NTSB, and she couldn’t get it done because of lack of resources and clout, then it’s much better. It’s not a disqualifier if she tried to change things and failed. But since change did not happen, it’s something that she needs to explain.

    Marc Reply:

    As a pilot, I’ve had a few interactions with the NTSB, and I think their role is misunderstood. Their task is to investigate an accident, attempt to determine a probable cause, and make *recommendations* as to how to reduce the frequency and severity ( in terms of lives, injuries, damage to property, etc.) of similar accidents in the future. They have no regulatory or enforcement function. Plus, they have no involvement with automobiles and trucks, which is the responsibility of the NHTSA. So, any recommendations in an accident report that come out of a particular railroad (or aircraft) accident will only reflect possible safety improvements to train (or aircraft) operating rules and/or certification requirements, and it is up to the FRA (or FAA) to accept, reject, or modify these suggestions…

    BMF from San Diego Reply:

    Villaraigosa is a minority. Being male shouldn’t count against him.

    VBobier Reply:

    On either count, so what? That isn’t what matters.

    joe Reply:

    Or for him for that matter.

    What is it that sets him apart? It is a political appointment.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The region he wants to shower with pork has semi-decent plans. CAHSR is a good idea with rotten things in it. Amtrak’s Master Plan and Vision are rotten ideas that occasionally have a good idea in them.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The CHSRA suffers from so much rot there is not much of the good left.

    But I believe there may be some game-changing alterations and adjustments ahead. SF might just turn on Caltrain out of frustration at getting their hands on that 4th and Townsend property and ask for an opt-out of Prop 1A.

    My radical take is that they will need all the railroad property to sweeten the kitty enough to sell tearing down I-280. And if they simply cannot accept an about-face on the TBT you will still end up with so much reduced capacity on the SF end it will invariably amount to a major change of circumstances at the putative Norcal terminus of TehaVegaSkyRail.

    joe Reply:

    Appointee will follow the President’s plan – CA is in there regardless.

    Amtrak has Biden. Biden will feed Amtrak. Sec of Trans will do as asked by VP Biden.

    She’s clearly not vested here politically and IMHO would be far better advocate for the President’s agenda. She’ll do what’s necessary – probably make some “mistakes” being too direct.

    He’s political and that means compromise with teabaggers.

    Jim Reply:

    I wouldn’t be too confident that Obama actually does support HSR. He accepted the zeroing out of HSR funding and the actual rescission of previously appropriated HSR funds with remarkable equanimity. A cynic would say that he fooled the Republicans into thinking that he wanted HSR, so they zeroed it out and he, smiling, accepted that, since they then had left the stuff he really cared about untouched.

    joe Reply:

    I’d still say that he supports HSR fairly strongly and admit is still willing to barter that funding. I think that’s true for everything he supports which is why he annoys me.

    His plan is to have a legacy and HSR in CA can be part of that legacy – CA is real HSR, not IL’s 110MPH train to St Louis and Detroit.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    He already has a legacy, with universal health care. Now that the Republicans have understood that they’re not going to win elections if they keep pissing on all minorities, he may also get immigration reform. If he then gets a reasonable climate change bill – which had some bipartisan support in 2010, and may get some again – he’ll have achieved three of the party’s core priorities. HSR isn’t nearly as important as any of those, let alone all three combined.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yeah that’s the impression that I got, HSR as the sacrificial pawn as it were. I’d rather have Biden in 2016 as POTUS, than anybody else, He I think likes HSR, at least I hope He does.

  3. Donk
    Jan 29th, 2013 at 23:09

    Main reason I support him is because he is the guy who is going to get America Fast Forward funded.

  4. Reedman
    Jan 30th, 2013 at 09:56

    LaHood has been particularly quiet about the Dreamliner battery issue.

    Peter Reply:

    What’s there to say? “We know there’s a problem, we don’t know what it is yet, we’re investigating”?

    Eric Reply:

    Yeah, he’s not the one who screwed up there.

  5. StevieB
    Jan 31st, 2013 at 08:51

    Ray LaHood says his successor will support High Speed Rail.

    “Look, we are behind on high-speed rail,” he said. “But because of the president’s vision and because of the work of those of us here at DOT, we have come a long way … As long as President Obama is in the White House, whoever sits in this chair will have high-speed rail as one of their top priorities.”

    LaHood also predicts that Congress will eventually catch up with public opinion.

    “As members of Congress understand that the people are way, way ahead of them on this — they are way ahead of most members, certainly on the Republican side, when it comes to high speed rail, or walking and biking paths, or livable, sustainable communities, green energy, the people are so far ahead of the politicians on this — eventually it will catch up with them,” he said.

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