Planes, trains, autos are nation’s lifeline, not partisan interests

When President Obama invited my colleagues and me to join his administration, he offered us front-row seats to watch history being made and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to help make a little history ourselves.

Although I have been in public life for more than three decades, I have never seen an administration take on more problems, more effectively, than the one in which I am honored to serve today.

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But when Congress gets back to business and begins work on the transportation bill’s reauthorization, we in Washington will have the chance to help make history by boosting our economy, creating jobs and rebuilding our infrastructure for the 21st century — a win, win, win.

Last month, President Obama unveiled his vision for modernizing America’s roads, rails and runways through this significant six-year legislation and a $50 billion up-front investment.  

The president committed to upgrading 150,000 miles of roadways, constructing and maintaining 4,000 miles of train tracks, restoring 150 miles of runways and putting in place a next-generation air-traffic control system that will reduce travel time and delays. He embraced some of the principles Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) has already laid out – including performance measures, accountability and competitive funds for innovative projects.  

He also reaffirmed his call for a national high-speed passenger rail network that eases traffic congestion, cuts carbon emissions, connects communities and revitalizes America’s cities — while strengthening the freight systems that keep our economy moving.

All of this will come in the form of a long-term plan that gives cities, states, tribes and contractors a predictable environment in which to bid, procure and break ground. It will be coupled with the establishment of a national infrastructure bank, which will finance investments that are regional or national in scope.  

The president’s plan will help taxpayers see a bigger bang for their buck because it implements new efficiencies, streamlines waste and bureaucracy by consolidating dozens of duplicative programs and rewards projects on their merits. While it will preserve formula funds for highways and other infrastructure, it also will support exciting new ideas that do not fit neatly into the old categories of one transportation mode or another.

President Obama’s vision builds on the enormous success we are seeing with the Recovery Act. So far, the Department of Transportation has obligated $39.3 billion of our $48.1 billion to more than 14,600 projects across the nation. Because of these and other efforts, we are on track to hit 3.5 million Recovery Act jobs by the end of the year. 

Some of these jobs result from the TIGER — or Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery — program. This particular pool of Recovery Act money finances projects that achieve multiple objectives simultaneously — whether improving safety, keeping current infrastructure in a state of good repair, bolstering long-term economic competitiveness, fostering more livable communities or promoting environmental sustainability. These same goals will guide our work on reauthorization.

When it comes to the economy, we certainly have a long way to go. But President Obama’s vision for reauthorization will draw on our gathering momentum and build bridges between Americans who need jobs and jobs that need doing.

Since joining the administration, I have visited nearly 100 cities in almost 40 states.  Everywhere I go, I hear Americans calling for more affordable, more efficient, more sustainable choices about how to get from one place to another — not instead of, but in addition to, our state-of-the-art highways. They are asking for more sidewalks and bike paths — for better bus service, streetcars, commuter and high-speed rail. I am convinced: This is our opportunity to answer.

In the past, transportation policy was one area where members of Congress joined together in the common good. After all, planes, trains, buses and automobiles are not partisan interests. They are the lifelines of America’s economy, the ties that bind us together and the ways we pursue our livelihoods and dreams.

The last transportation reauthorization — the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act — passed the House with 417 votes and the Senate with 89.  The reauthorization before that — the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century — passed the House with 337 votes and the Senate by unanimous consent. I am optimistic we can reach similar consensus today.  

As this fall’s campaign comes down to the wire, I hope candidates and elected officials of both parties join me in explaining to the public exactly why this matters. It is an investment in jobs, opportunity, competitiveness, our neighborhoods and our nation. I look forward to working with members of the House and Senate — old and new — to make a little history together.


LaHood is the secretary of 
transportation