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America’s next transportation secretary is…

When Ray LaHood announced early this year he would not return to serve a second term as the Department of Transportation Secretary, a door opened for Charlotte, N.C. Mayor Anthony Foxx.  President Obama nominated the second-term Democrat Monday to pick up where LaHood will leave soon leave off.  The President is hoping Foxx’s impressive track record of overseeing successful transportation projects in Charlotte will translate to a national scale.   

Sunday Spin: Smile, Mr. Secretary, you’re on candid camera

OLYMPIA – When a federal Cabinet secretary stopped by the Capitol last week, trying to prod the Legislature into action on a big multi-state project, he got a warm welcome from Gov. Jay Inslee. Not so much from Senate Republicans.

So what would one expect for a member of a Democratic president’s administration? you might be thinking. Considering it was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, some folks were expecting something a bit more politic.

LaHood was in town to push the Columbia River Crossing, a bridge between Vancouver and Portland is the most controversial topic in Southwest Washington. Take the heat the North-South Freeway generated in its earlier days, multiply it by 10, and you might get to the animosity between supporters and opponents of the CRC. . .

What did DOT Secretary, Ray LaHood do for you?

If you got a ticket for distracted driving, was inexplicably reimbursed for an airline fee or found work on a state highway recently, Ray LaHood probably had something to do with it.  LaHood announced this week he will not return to serve as Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation during President Obama’s second term.  As LaHood sees it, "I have had a good run.  I'm one of these people who believe that you should go out while they're applauding." (1)

So why should we be clapping? 

Friday Quote: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on livable communities

Many transit advocates we’re initially concerned with the pick of Ray LaHood as the Secretary Of The Department Of Transportation. Aaron Naparstek on Streetsblog wrote “The selection of a downstate Illinois Republican with close ties to highway lobby stalward Catepillar Inc., is being taken by many as a clear sign that progressive transportation policy is, for now, nowhere near the top of the Obama’s agenda.” Ha. Now they’re singing a different tune - La Hood is a rockstar who shows bike love and, yes, isn’t afraid to dance on top of a table. Check this excerpt from an interview with Grist on Livable Communities.

But politically, it’s been a little bit of a tough sell. There are a lot of people, especially on the Republican side of the aisle, who seem to think that encouraging density and more walkable communities is, in effect, forcing people to live in the kinds of places that they don’t want to live in.

A. I think when politicians begin to listen to their constituents, what they find is that their constituents are way ahead of them on livability and sustainability, on having cleaner, greener communities, on having walking and biking paths, on having streetcar systems. I think when politicians who are elected by the people begin to listen to their constituents, they begin to get with this kind of livable, sustainable community program.

Republicans absent from corridor celebration

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Ray LaHood on Obama transportation plan, 9-7-2010
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Sen. Patty Murray on Obama transportation plan, 9-7-2010
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Sen. Patty Murray speaks at freeway ceremony, 9-7-2010

The following is a corrected version of an earlier post.

Noticeably absent from the ceremony on Tuesday that celebrated the start of construction of a portion of the North Spokane Corridor were any elected Republican officials.

It was Spokane Mayor Mary Verner who served as master of ceremony (though the freeway still hasn’t reached city limits). The speakers besides honored guest U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, included U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and state Sen. Chris Marr — both Democrats facing tough reelection battles.

Besides the speakers, among those who were given gold-colored shovels to “break ground” were state Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, and state Rep. John Driscoll, D-Spokane.

Officials said the event was organized by Murray’s office and the federal transportation department. So were Republicans shunned?

Maureen Knightly, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers received an invitation to the event last week.

(An earlier version of this post quoted a Murray spokesman who said McMorris-Rodgers likely wasn’t invited because of her stance against the stimulus bill.)

McMorris-Rodgers was not invited to a ceremony in February where it was announced that the state won the $35 million grant for the project. The freeway lanes are being funded through the controversial $787 billion federal stimulus legislation that McMorris-Rodgers opposed and Murray supported.

Other Republicans who were invited included Spokane County commissioners. Commissioner Todd Mielke confirmed that county leaders were invited but couldn’t attend because of a previously scheduled public hearing. He said commissioners participated in a later meeting at the Spokane International Airport with LaHood and several local and state transportation officials.

LaHood, who arrived in a white Suburban escorted by two Spokane Police cars, spent much of his speech praising Murray for her vote in support of the stimulus bill and for her work to create the competitive grant program using stimulus funds that ultimately funded the southbound lanes.

Who is Ray LaHood?

If you said, Transportation Secretary then congratulations.

And as the SRTC blog said, he is “somewhat of a rockstar with bicycle, pedestrian, and transit advocates, but he isn’t gaining any popularity with conservatives and a lot of people in the manufacturing and trucking industries.”

Image courtesy of streetsblog.net.

Last month, LaHood won hearts all over the country when he endorsed what amounted to a Complete Streets policy. Now, the backlash is setting in. At a House hearing, Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, suggested that one explanation for the new policy is that the secretary’s thinking has been clouded by drugs. “Is that a typo?” LaTourette asked. “If it’s not a typo, is there still mandatory drug testing at the department?”