While at the U.S. Department of Transportation I was chatting with some DOT staff members while waiting for my interview with the department’s 16th Secretary of Transportation, Sec. Ray LaHood. It was a conversation about LaHood’s determination about doing everything the department can, to ending distracted driving.
U.S. citizens can read about his commitment on Distraction.gov, the website created and dedicated to this topic; “Fast Lane,” the official blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation; YouTube; Facebook or Twitter. LaHood has made it his mission to be a visible figure promoting what he feels is important.
When it comes to the problem of distracted driving, I learned that is something he started with no additional budget and the department has been using available technology and Web social sites to get the message out to the nation.
This highly visible, vocal nature is one of the things LaHood has been known for in his post as secretary of DOT. And, to make sure he understands what America’s transportation needs are, he’s constantly learning, listening and traveling across the country talking to people.
“I’ve been to I think now 46 or 47 states,” he says when I met with him. And that doesn’t count the trip to Alaska he was going to have shortly after our meeting. “I was just in California, while I was there I met with the governor on high-speed rail and I met with other officials on other transportation issues,” says LaHood. “And Monday I’ll be in Minneapolis in the morning and Charlotte, North Carolina, in the afternoon.” He adds, “There are many, many unmet transportation needs all over America.”
Thinking big, making sure we take care of our crumbling infrastructure and putting Americans to work is what the secretary’s message is now. Passing the American Jobs Act so bridges don’t have to be closed, America’s infrastructure can be kept state-of-the-art and progress can be continued on transit, roads and bridges.
The American Jobs Act
Congress passed an extension of the surface transportation bill through March, six months of funding. LaHood says, “Our goal really is to work with Congress to persuade them to pass the American Jobs Act, which has $2B for transit and $4B for high-speed rail, which are both high priorities for the President.”
“We’ve invested more than $10B in the last two-and-a-half years in high-speed rail in America. That’s 10 billion more than has ever been invested in high-speed rail,” LaHood says. “My view is that President Obama and this administration take a back seat to nobody when it comes to being responsive to transit because we believe this is what the people want.
“That’s why we think we have a very good story in going to Congress for the American Jobs Act. You invest in transit, what you’re investing in is green jobs, green transportation and the opportunity for people to have state-of-the-art repair transit, newer transit, and make sure that people have the availability of it.”
At the US High Speed Rail Association’s November conference in New York City, LaHood spoke to attendees about the administration’s vision. He said, “Our goal, the president’s plan, includes connecting 80 percent of America in the next 25 years.” He continued, “All told, the American Jobs Act creates hundreds of thousands of quality jobs, laying or making 4,000 miles of track, enough to stretch from coast to coast over the next several years.
“Once track is laid, then states can start doing high-speed rail that will spur economic development; we know that,” LaHood said. “It will generate quality jobs and small businesses all along the corridors.”