Commentary

LaHood on Trains: If You Build It, They Will Come

I attended, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s fourth “listening session” on transportation reauthorization in Houston on Wednesday, May 5th. The event was well attended–several hundred listened Secretary Ray LaHood and two panels of U.S. DOT staff and other experts discuss key priorities for transportation reauthorization. U.S. DOT staff and Secretary Ray LaHood were attentive and sincerely interested in hearing what participants had to say (although many seemed to be pushing pet ideas and technologies).

The U.S. DOT also took the opportunity to announce its five strategic priorities for the department moving forward:

  • Safety
  • Livability (place-based policies)
  • State of good repair (operations, maintenance and rehabilitation)
  • Economic competitiveness
  • Environmental sustainability

These priorities will be used to frame how the department moves forward on transportation reauthorizationi.

I won’t go into an extensive commentary on the discussion, but I’ll provide a few admittedly selective quotes (from my personal notes) made by Secretary LaHood:

  • “America is now with high-speed rail where we were with the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.”
  • The Obama Administration is committed to a “vision for American to be connected by high-speed rail in ten to twenty years.”
  • With respect to building reail transit in cities: “If you build it, they will come.”
  • “I guess I need to say this more often: If you build it, they will come.”
  • “People want options.”
  • We need to “incentivize opportunities for people to be multimodal.”
  • “We have a state of the art interstate highway system” that is the best in the world.
  • We (U.S. DOT) “like TIGER because you can bypass states and fund really innovative programs.” [TIGER is the discretionary grant program created and funded through the stimulus program.]

I will also note that several regional planning representatives made pleas for directing funds directly from the U.S. DOT to the MPOs to avoid going through state departments of transportation which have different priorities.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.