The nominee is Ray LaHood, a congressman from rural Southern Illinois. He has represented Illinois' 18th District since 1995 in the United States House of Representatives. Representative LaHood is a moderate Republican whose record on transportation seems to be neutral, although certainly more liberal than most Republicans. Unlike Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, whose sponsorship of transportation bills has dramatically improved the situation for transit, or James Oberstar, Congressman from Minnesota, whose support for bikes and transit is well known, Mr. LaHood has no transportation bills to his name. Other than the occasional break from the party to vote in support of Amtrak, LaHood hasn't focused on transportation.
And I'm afraid Mr. LaHood's nomination does not bode well for America's transportation policy. By selecting someone with little transportation experience, Mr. Obama is indicating that he does not place much emphasis on the importance of transportation on his policy agenda.
While I don't necessarily think that Mr. LaHood will have a negative impact on transportation policy, I don't think that he's the person who is going to bring change to Washington. I think it most likely that he will keep the status quo, at best--and right now, that is one of the last things we need in transport policy.
As I've pointed out before, now is a pivotal moment for transportation in America. Among other things, we're up for reauthorization of the transportation bill in 2009. Additionally, transit ridership is higher than it's been for decades while VMT is dropping. The last thing we need right now is business as usual. I sincerely hope that Mr. LaHood will not bring that kind of leadership to DOT.
Honestly, I am disappointed in Mr. Obama. He seems to be serious about energy independence and fighting climate change, but does not seem to see the transportation component of either of those goals as important. And while his platform called for transit-oriented planning, his policies seem to be headed toward the kind of road building of the sort catalyzed 5 decades of sprawl.
For now, I'm waiting to learn more about Ray LaHood. I truly hope that he will bring change to Washington, but I don't have too much hope anymore. With all Mr. Obama's talk of infrastructure spending, I'd hoped he was serious about rebuilding America. It seems I was mistaken.
Please make sure to see my other posts on the topic: