Parsing LaHood's Legacy

In the wake of yesterday's surprisingly unsurprising announcement that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is stepping down, several reporters who focus on transportation issues have taken stock of his tenure.
January 30, 2013, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Beloved by many in the transportation community for his often outspoken advocacy for alternative modes, the former Republican congressman from Peoria was a signature cross-party pick for President Obama’s his first cabinet. "At the time, LaHood was little known outside his district, and no one expected him to make many waves. Those people were wrong."

Andrea Bernstein provides a roundup of his most significant accomplishments, and battles:

He tangled repeatedly with Congress on high speed rail and shutting down the FAA. An avid cyclist, LaHood once jumped on a table at a Washington, DC bicycle conference to emphasize his enthusiasm for cycling as transportation. A Buick driver, LaHood was especially passionate in his anti-distracted driving campaigns, pushing back not only against texting but also against shaving and applying make-up while driving. He was known to take immediate action if he witnessed distracted driving. “What I’ve been doing is kind of honking at somebody if I see him on a cellphone,” he once told a local DC radio station.

LaHood shepherded through spending on high speed rail, stimulus funding, and innovative transportation projects like bus rapid transit.  But he and the Obama administration were unsuccessful in convincing Congress to expand high speed rail and infrastructure funding.  He also failed in convincing NJ Governor Chris Christie to save the NJ Transit tunnel under the Hudson.

At Reconnecting America, Sarah Kline praised the "Secretary's ability to work across the aisle and garner bipartisan support for transportation funding and reform," and for elevating transportation in the national conversation.

At The Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger notes the seismic shifts in how "Washington thinks about transportation and the federal government’s role in it," and outlines the "5 ways the next U.S. Secretary of Transportation will be forced to follow Ray LaHood's lead."

Finally, we give the last word to LaHood himself, who "took some parting shots at lawmakers, mainly his fellow Republicans, for lacking a vision on infrastructure proportional to current demands" in an exit interview with The Huffington Post. "[A]s he gets set to leave the Department of Transportation," writes Sam Stein, "he argued that the Obama agenda would ultimately prove to be the trendsetter."

"As members of Congress understand that the people are way, way ahead of them on this -- they are way ahead of most members, certainly on the Republican side, when it comes to high speed rail, or walking and biking paths, or livable, sustainable communities, green energy, the people are so far ahead of the politicians on this -- eventually it will catch up with them," he said.

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Published on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 in Transportation Nation
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