LaHood: ‘America is one big pothole’

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday lamented the amount of infrastructure spending that was approved by Congress during his tenure.

LaHood placed most of the blame for the lack of transportation funding in recent years on his former colleagues in the Republican Party. 

"For all the talk within the Republican Party about helping small businesses, there are a lot of small businesses that are in the road construction business, the bridge construction business that would benefit from a bold infrastructure bill,"  LaHood said in an interview on "The Diane Rehm Show" on National Public Radio.

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"And I don't think you'd be turning off people in America because they know that America is one big pothole right now," LaHood continued.

LaHood was a Republican House member from Illinois before he joined the Obama administration in 2009. He announced last week that he was retiring after serving one term at the helm of the Department of Transportation.

The departing DOT secretary said America was at risk of falling losing its place as a leader in infrastructure development if the trend was not quickly reversed under his eventual successor. 

"At one time ... we were the leader in infrastructure," he said. "We built the interstate system. It's the best road system in the world, and we're proud of it. But we're falling way behind other countries, because we have not made the investments."

LaHood noted that Congress passed a $105 billion surface transportation bill last year, but he lamented the fact that the measure only provided appropriations for road and transit projects until 2014.

"Congress passed a two-year bill. Ordinarily they would pass a five year bill," he said. "It was only a two-year bill because they couldn't find enough money to fund a five-year bill."

Speculation on LaHood's replacement at the DOT has centered on National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairwoman Deborah Hersman since LaHood announced his retirement last week.

LaHood said Wednesday that whoever ends up replacing him will have to think outside the box to find more transportation funding.

Funding for previous transportation bills had traditionally come from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon taxes on gasoline purchases that goes to the federal government. However, the gas tax now only brings in about $35 billion per year.

Lawmakers used a package of fee increases and closing tax loopholes to make the difference between the gas tax revenue and the more than $50 billion that is spent annually under the 2012 transportation bill.

A House Republican effort to tie transportation funding to increased offshore oil drilling was blocked by Democrats in the Senate.  

LaHood said Wednesday that it will not be as easy to come up with a temporary solution when the next transportation bill comes up.

"The next decisions that will be made by this Congress, by this administration will have to be bold if we're going to continue our efforts to fix up our roads, keep our highways in a state of good repair, to fix up unsafe bridges," he said. "We need a bold plan, and a bold way to fund it."

Video of LaHood's interview, courtesy of "The Diane Rehm Show," can be watched below: