Ray LaHood Pledges Successor Will Continue His Legacy
Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been doing some exit interviews with the media, and in them, he makes it clear that the changes he has helped push through – from supporting high speed rail to giving equal time to non-motorized forms of transportation – will last under his successor.
Tanya Snyder of Streetsblog has a very good interview with LaHood:
RL: So the president will be looking for somebody who will continue to carry out his vision for infrastructure, for transportation, for livable and sustainable communities, for making sure that people have lots of transportation alternatives — and the jobs that are created as a result of it…
TS: One of the very bold things that you did was stand on a tabletop and declare the equality of non-motorized transportation. Do you feel like that is an ethic that is deeply permeated in the department, or is that something that could leave with you? Or leave with President Obama?
RL: I think that the team of people that we have put together in the department, almost all of whom will be there after I’m gone, all of whom will support whoever the next secretary is, believe in the agenda that we have promoted, believe very strongly in alternative forms of transportation, promoting bike-share programs, promoting streetcars, promoting bus rapid transit, promoting light rail, promoting livable and sustainable communities, promoting alternative transportation.
I believe that this agenda will continue to be carried out by a very, very talented group of people that we put together over the last four years that will support the president’s vision and support the vision that DOT is not just about building roads and bridges. It’s about a lot of other opportunities for transportation for people. And I think people should not worry about that.
That’s all fantastic news. Things like bike share, streetcars, and light rail all matter both for building better cities. From a narrow high speed rail perspective, they also matter for providing great connections to riders at their points of arrival and departure. California high speed rail stations will be urban stations, built in city centers, and the experience of taking the bullet train is made that much better by having more trains and bike infrastructure at the station to use once you step off the HSR system.
LaHood had more to say about high speed rail in speaking to Burgess Everett of Politico:
It’s all a work in progress that will take energy, patience and a grass-roots effort to convince lawmakers of high-speed rail’s viability, LaHood said. “The people are so far ahead of most politicians on this,” he added….
“There’s no turning back. Do not be dissuaded by a few detractors. Do not be dissuaded by people without a transportation vision,” LaHood advised his audience. “The last group of transportation officials left us an interstate system. What we will leave to the next generation is high-speed rail.”
LaHood was very clear that, as we’ve known, support for HSR comes from the very top:
Now, it will be up to the next secretary to continue the task of selling the vision. LaHood is confident the administration will stay on track.
“You’ll continue to get a lot of encouragement from the Department of Transportation, from this administration and from the president,” LaHood said.
And the moderate Republican made it clear that he isn’t a fan of fast trains just because he’s in the Obama administration.
“I have no idea what I’m going to be doing,” LaHood said when asked about his future. “But I will continue to be passionate about high-speed rail, I can tell you that.”
That support is important, even if – and especially if – Congressional Republican hostility to high speed continues. President Obama is, as LaHood said, planning to be bolder here in his second term, and that will likely include seeking ways to overcome that hostility to continue building out a national high speed rail network.
We don’t know yet who the president will nominate to take LaHood’s place, though there are rumors and speculation. But what LaHood is saying is that ultimately it won’t much matter – a new course has been charted, a better and more sustainable course for transportation in America, and as long as Barack Obama is president, that course will be kept.