Secretary of the Department of Transportation in 2009, Ray LaHood was charged with an important mandate from the White House; do your job and do it well. All eyes were on the Peoria, IL native as President Obama made it clear that his priorities were stimulating the economy and doing what was best for the people.
A 2009 statement from the White House had this to say, “Obama’s priorities for transportation include safety across all modes, restoring economic health and creating jobs, sustainability – shaping the economy of the coming decades by building new transportation infrastructure, and assuring that transportation policies focus on people who use the transportation system and their communities.”
There was no doubt this job would be a huge undertaking for LaHood and, due in part to our tanking economy in 2009, many politicians had their doubts about him. So how did Secretary LaHood measure up according to his mandates from the White House? Let’s look at it by the issues and mandates passed down by President Obama.
Transportation safety was a prominent theme during LaHood’s tenure. He implemented policy measures and public initiatives in his first year in office. All one would need to do is to browse the Distraction.gov website, implemented to increase public awareness about distracted driving and you know that he meant business.
Mike Mihaylov of Montway Auto Transport said, “The driving behavior of American’s must change.” LaHood agrees with that sentiment. On the Distraction website it notes that, “Distracted driving is an epidemic on America’s roadways. You see it every day: Drivers swerving in their lanes, stopping at green lights, running red ones, or narrowly missing a pedestrian because they have their eyes and minds on their phones instead of the road.”
LaHood went on to state some clear facts about the impact of distracted driving, “The results are preventable accidents. In 2010, 3092 people were killed, and an estimated additional 416,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.”
Road safety isn’t the only mode of transportation considered when Secretary LaHood sought to increase safety measures. He championed measures to combat pilot fatigue by limiting how long pilots are allowed to sit behind the controls or remain on duty during any 24-hour period.
“This is a major safety achievement,” said Secretary LaHood. “We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit. This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue.”
TIGGER or, the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction, is a federally funded discretionary grant program for public transportation projects that reduce a transit system’s greenhouse gas emissions or result in a decrease in a transit system’s energy use. It is also the new word for environmental sustainability according to Secretary LaHood.
In his exit statement, LaHood posits this as a good thing. “We helped jumpstart the economy and put our fellow Americans back to work with $48 billion in transportation funding from the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, and awarded over $2.7 billion in TIGER grants.” Grants like these are used to obtain the new protected bike lanes appearing around the nation.
In Chicago, former White House Chief of Staff and current mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, put these earmarked TIGGER dollars to full use. Using federal grant dollars obtained through the Transportation Alternatives Program, authorized by the most recent federal funding act – MAP-21, Mayor Emmanuel has a strategic plan to implement a 645-mile network of on-street bike routes by the end of this decade.
Though critics will say that this program was implemented in the early 1990’s and therefore was not an innovative idea on the part of Secretary Ray LaHood, but the Secretary can boast his ability to streamline the programs by reducing bureaucratic red tape that it initially took state agencies to access federal grant monies.
New Transportation Infrastructure
Critics are none too fond of the idea of high speed rail lines; even as states like California, Florida, and Illinois continue to vie to clear the pathways towards high speed rail obtainment. Groups like the American Public Transportation Association has sited everything, from eminent domain laws that work against land ownership for citizens, to environmental impact and economic incompatibility to keep high speed rail lines at bay.
In Illinois, that has not stopped Governor Pat Quinn from throwing his hat in the ring with proponents for new innovations like the rail lines. He applauded the efforts of Federal Railroad Administration for pushing through measures to build a high speed rail corridor between Chicago and St. Louis. This was, yet another measure that Secretary LaHood said would, “further secure our future” and “take transportation into the 21st century”.
Economic Health and Job Creation
With an estimated 130 transportation projects across the nation, it goes without saying that all of this creation of new infrastructure, high speed rail lines, and new sources of revenue in the way of earmarked grants would help to boost American economic health and job creation.
In his exit statement LaHood had this to say, “In December, the DOT was recognized as the most improved agency in the entire Federal government in the 2012 ‘Best Places to Work’ rankings published by the Partnership of Public Service. Even more impressive, DOT was ranked 9th out of the 19 largest agencies in the government.”
What should we look for in LaHood’s replacement? Join the conversation, let us know!