Outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a few parting words yesterday at the National Press Club, just an hour before his successor, Anthony Foxx, was confirmed by the full Senate. The theme of LaHood’s prepared remarks was bipartisanship, but he admits he’s not seeing enough of it these days in Washington.
That could doom prospects for a long-term transportation bill to follow up MAP-21 when it expires at the end of the next fiscal year.
“I do think the prospects are pretty good in the Senate right now,” LaHood said, drawing optimism from what he called a “healthy” debate on immigration in the upper chamber. But then he took a look at the House, where the farm bill recently fell apart, and said transportation could meet the same fate. “I think the prospects in the House are very dim right now.”
At the same time, he said, a new, long-term bill is absolutely the most pressing issue facing the transportation sector. “America is one big pothole right now,” he said.
LaHood touted the administration’s achievements with the stimulus, pouring $48 billion into infrastructure and creating 65,000 jobs. And the cash-for-clunkers program, he said, persuaded Americans to buy 700,000 cars in the span of 30 days. When LaHood said later, “No administration has done more for the American car manufacturer than this administration,” he wasn’t kidding.
That line came in response to a question from Streetsblog about the decline in miles driven over the past few years. Did LaHood think it was a lasting trend, and if so, how should it affect U.S. DOT’s planning and forecasting? “That’s a question for somebody who’s very intellectual and very smart,” he said. “I haven’t given much thought to that. I don’t know the answer to that.” And then he started touting the gifts the administration has given to carmakers.
“The kind of vehicles that people drive, I believe, will change dramatically,” he said. With CAFE standards coming into effect, he thinks every family in America will have a hybrid. “Gasoline prices aren’t going down! They’re not going down.”
So he envisions an America with different cars but not fewer cars? “I don’t know about fewer cars,” he said. “It seems like they’re selling a heck of a lot of cars these days.”
They’re selling a lot of bikes too, though! (I thought I’d give him a chance to toot his own horn about all he’s done for non-motorized modes of transportation, which advocates agree is more than any previous secretary ever had.) “This is the year of bike-share!” he announced, listing the cities where he’s helped launch new systems.