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LaHood Leaves a Legacy of Strong Investment in Transportation Infrastructure

Peter Lehner

Posted January 31, 2013 in Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil

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At the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit in 2010, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wasn’t, like many attendees, wearing a fluorescent bike pin on his lapel. But he did jump up on a table and deliver an impromptu speech about the importance of transportation alternatives, bike paths and walking paths, and livable communities, to raucous applause from a roomful of avid bikers. “People want alternatives,” he said. “They want to get out of their cars, out of congestion.”

LaHood, who recently announced he will not be serving a second term with the Obama Administration, was an unexpected champion of green policies. The Republican from Illinois backed the administration’s historic 54.5 mpg fuel efficiency standards. He poured investments into public transportation infrastructure, supported the development of livable, walkable communities, and emphasized regional cooperation on transportation alternatives through innovative, competitive grant programs. His focus on infrastructure helped shift the DOT’s priorities away from traditional highway-building and toward creating a more flexible, efficient, interconnected 21st-century transportation system—one that will help reduce our dependence on oil, improve air quality, and cut global warming pollution.

Under LaHood’s watch, the DOT, together with the EPA, rolled out historic fuel efficiency standards for cars that will double gas mileage by 2025, saving 12 billion barrels of oil, and $1.7 trillion for consumers. These standards represent the biggest step yet by the federal government to reduce our dangerous dependence on oil and tackle global warming.

LaHood’s DOT implemented a major infrastructure revamp through the stimulus bill, investing billions in road repair (a proven fuel-saver), track improvements, and upgrading and replacing public transit vehicles, with cleaner, more efficient ones.

Through the innovative TIGER and TIFIA programs, LaHood helped direct funding toward critical regional transportation improvements, like Washington, DC’s Silver Line Metro expansion, which connects suburban Northern Virginia commuters to DC and other job centers like Tysons’ Corner; Detroit’s long-awaited M1 streetcar line; and LA’s Crenshaw Light Rail line, which will help connect the airport to downtown.

He also supported efforts to improve access to affordable housing, and to develop a range of transportation options for communities, putting, as the DOT stated, “…all travelers on equal footing, whether they get behind the wheel of a car or put on a pair of walking shoes.”

LaHood’s focus on rebuilding and improving infrastructure came at a critical time, when our transportation system earned a D grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, as Congress was battling over a new transportation bill and Americans were desperate for work. His investments in modern, fuel-efficient infrastructure are a step in the right direction to make our transportation system clean, efficient, and affordable.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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