One new message: LaHood must go

Transportation Secretary has accomplished little during his tenure

Blog Entry November 12, 2012

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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Since assuming the responsibilities of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood's tenure has been centered around distracted driving. Well, allow me to send a text to Mr. LaHood while I sit here at my desk, about 100 yards from the hazard zone known as my car: I wish you nothing but the best, but please go.

 

Rumors out of Washington is LaHood is contemplating taking on another term as the U.S. DOT chief. He said if President Barack Obama approached him about serving again, he would do it. However, there also is word that the Illinois congressman is indeed leaving for a better life. That pretty much sums up LaHood's performance as Transportation Secretary. It's been a head scratcher.

 

Distracted driving should have been put at the top of anyone's agenda. It needs to stop, and the orders should come from the top. However, LaHood seemed to be borderline frantic about the issue--and I think it engulfed his purpose. TIGER grants also were administered under his watch, and although they are a nice shot in the arm, the whole selection process seems to be a bit tainted. Then there is the whole high-speed rail initiative. The Obama administration made it clear four years ago that they were going to do whatever it took to improve the passenger rail system in the U.S., and for all we know they will continue that push over the next four years. High-speed rail has not been welcomed with open arms in the transportation industry, and the way it was initially carried out almost felt like Obama and LaHood were using strong-arm tactics to get the program moving. If you did not want a high-speed rail line between places like Orlando and Tampa, then money was pulled from your so-called account. You lost it for good.

 

But perhaps the biggest LaHood disappointment came during the final hours of the passage of MAP-21. He was non-existent during the negotiation process, and told anyone who would listen that there was no way it was going to pass. So instead of offering a solution or anecdote, he just sat back in his chair and grumbled. I expected the leader of this industry to do more than just huff and puff about the most important piece of legislation to hit the industry since the George W. Bush administration.

 

Now we stand before another scenario—the expiring Bush tax cuts, or the fiscal cliff—that has an outside shot at benefitting the road and bridge construction sector. According to the Washington Post, the last two federal gas-tax increases came as a resulf of deficit-reduction deals. If the Obama administration plays their cards right, the transportation sector could finally see more money generated from the pump. But the leader of this effort is LaHood, and this is the same man who basically told Congress to take a flying leap during the creation of MAP-21.

 

I think a golf course has your name on it, Mr. LaHood. That would be a switch, because you did not put your mark on much that was positive while you were the boss at the U.S. DOT. I hope you get the text message.

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