Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s imprint on U.S. transportation goes far beyond cutting down on driving while texting and heralding high-speed rail. Arguably, the former Republican congressman’s advancements in freight policy will last longer and have a larger impact on the national economy than the so-called sexier hallmarks of his tenure. While his Bush-era predecessor, Mary Peters, focused on public-private partnerships, LaHood elevated the role of freight movement within the broader economy.
Here are the Top 5 ways LaHood brought freight transport to the forefront.
The focus in the coming weeks will be on who will fill LaHood’s seat, with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and National Transportation and Safety Board Chairman Debbie Hersman as just a few of the speculated potential successors. But the more important question is what can the new DOT secretary accomplish for freight interest, considering infrastructure demands far outweigh resources?
First, the DOT needs to continue to build confidence in Congress in its ability to pick projects that provide a major economic impact. Congress may be easing its loathing of earmarks, but without a repeal of the ban, there needs to be a way for Congress and the Obama administration to jointly determine which projects get the go-ahead. The DOT’s vetting of projects before Congress makes the final say-so is one way to reduce pork and get funding, authorization or both, said Leslie Blakey, executive director of the Coalition of America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors. As Congress works on a new surface transportation bill, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Highway Trust Fund won’t cut it anymore. And, there is push back from some House Republicans on plugging the shortfall in HTF funding of planned spending with general fund dollars. A new way of paying for infrastructure needs to rise past wishful thinking to a reality. “We need a strong voice from the secretary of transportation,” Blakey said. Lastly, the U.S. is finally catching up with the likes of France, England and China in creating a freight policy. The DOT has the opportunity to make the policy one more forgotten white paper or a roadmap to make U.S. shippers more globally competitive.