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LaHood on Transport: ‘We Don’t Want to Pit One Mode … Against Another’

9:37 AM PDT on September 4, 2009

While Vice President Biden was giving a
candid take on cities' difficulties taking advantage of the economic
stimulus, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was giving a recovery
speech of his own in Chicago -- where he sent a message of transport
reform to an audience that might not have expected it.

3484016419_52ea97c5f0.jpgTransportation Secretary LaHood, with his boss. (Photo: whitehouse via Flickr)

The
bulk of LaHood's speech focused on the federal effort to jump-start the
economy, but he closed with a mission statement of sorts for future
policymaking at the U.S. DOT.

LaHood mentioned the importance of setting national targets for the transport system, which has been a central goal of reformers but is absent from the current House version of the long-term infrastructure bill.

He
also discussed the need for regional planning that better serves the
needs of metro areas instead of top-down transportation decision-making
in state capitals.

One aspect of LaHood's message in particular, however, was applicable to everyday drivers and cyclists as well as the Washington lobbying machine. "[W]e don't want to pit one mode of transportation against another," he said.

The
relevant portion of his remarks is available in full after the jump.
Could it signal the beginning of a more even-handed federal approach to
urban transportation needs?

Looking ahead,beyond the [stimulus], I believe it’s time to re-think our federalspending priorities and focus on transportation investments that moreeffectively meet the needs of our communities.

For many years,federal transportation spending has mainly been driven by rigidformulas and divided by modes of transportation -- with separatefunding for each type of need, from highways to subways to ferries. Weneed to turn this around, so that our priorities and the outcomespeople care about -- such as building transit and affordable housingcloser together -- drive our investments.

In order for this to happen, we have to change the way weoperate. We need to make our national priorities clear -- and thenempower state and local jurisdictions and other stakeholders to makethem a reality. And we don’t want to pit one mode of transportationagainst another.

Instead, we’re asking communities to putoutcomes first -- and then determine the type of transportationinfrastructure that works best to meet those outcomes. We’re hoping andexpecting that this will be an effective way to strike a new balanceamong all forms of transportation.

We also want to allowcounties and cities to work together to develop regional plansreflecting both regional and national priorities. Then we’d fund themdirectly. The fact is, metro areas hold over 80 percent of the U.S.population. They’re major centers of economic activity. And theyaccount for most of the congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Empoweringmetro regions to tackle their transportation and energy problems willmove us closer to enjoying cities and suburbs that are cleaner, lesscongested, and less polluted than many are today. We think all this canbe accomplished without sacrificing the important investments that alsoneed to be made in rural towns.

What’s really importantisn’t the size of a project or a jurisdiction. It’s whether we cansucceed in investing in transportation projects that enhance ourquality of life and help us compete economically.

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