The first time I read the Journal Star’s breaking news article on retiring Congressman Ray LaHood being chosen by President-elect Obama for U.S. Secretary of Transportation, it was all about LaHood being a “moderate” Republican, able to reach across the aisle, yada yada yada, and his being a personal friend of Rahm Emanuel. Conspicuously absent from the article: anything on LaHood’s knowledge of or position on transportation issues.
Now the article has been changed considerably. Gone is any reference to Rahm Emanuel. Included now are quotes from Phil Hare and Glenn Poshard on what a hard worker LaHood is, and how he’s so non-partisan. The only comment about LaHood’s transportation prowess comes from Poshard, who is summarized as saying “LaHood has a comprehensive grasp of the needs of the state and need for a massive infrastructure overhaul nationwide.”
LaHood is getting high marks in some blogs and news reports for breaking with President Bush and voting for the Passenger Rail Investment Act and the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act. However, we here in central Illinois know that his support of rail transportation only goes so far.
In 2004, he didn’t support high-speed rail in Illinois (along the Chicago-Bloomington-St. Louis route) because he said it was too expensive and rural residents were against it. The expense? Nearly $200 million for track and equipment upgrades. Yet he then turned around and supported (nay, fought for) a $499 million project to upgrade I-74 through Peoria and East Peoria, providing us with ten times the capacity we need and literally walling off urban neighborhoods.
Then, just last year, LaHood pooh-poohed the idea of Amtrak extending service to Peoria. We should be happy with bus service to Bloomington to catch a train, he told WCBU at the time. Real progressive there, Ray. This was before the Amtrak-IDOT feasibility study was even started. He simply made up his mind that Peoria shouldn’t have passenger train service.
And LaHood, like most local leaders, tried to broker a deal between rail companies and the Peoria Park District to kill freight rail service on the Kellar Branch so it could be turned into a linear park. Short-sighted again. Less freight rail means more trucks on the roads, which means more wear and tear on our streets and highways and more greenhouse gases in the air.
According to the USDOT website, “The Office of the Secretary (OST) oversees the formulation of national transportation policy and promotes intermodal transportation.” “Intermodal” — that means “interconnectivity between various types (modes) of transportation.” LaHood’s policies in Peoria have only favored one mode — the motor vehicle. Because of that, I find him a surprising and disheartening choice for Transportation Secretary, especially when Joe Biden promised that an Obama-Biden administration would be “the most train-friendly administration ever.”