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Transportation Secretary LaHood? Say it ain’t so!

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.”

Oh really?

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.”

26 comments to Transportation Secretary LaHood? Say it ain’t so!

  • David P. Jordan

    Gotta give Ray this one…Chicago – St. Louis and the I-74 corridor through Peoria and East Peoria are two different traffic flows (and modes of transportation).

    I understand his reasoning because highways are general use roads for far more of the nation’s population through private autos, buses and motor carriers while railroads are limited to hosting common carrier freight and/or passenger trains.

    I do agree, however, that LaHood’s lack of support (or an open mind) regarding Amtrak service to Peoria is a problem, and inexcusable given the impending study at the time he said those things.

  • David — As you know, passenger rail ridership is up, and if the region could get a reliable high-speed rail network, ridership would no doubt explode. More rail riders mean fewer cars on the road. And there are all kinds of local and national benefits from that — starting with less damage to roads and lower emissions, and including less oil consumption, which can effectively lessen our reliance on foreign oil.

    Ray doesn’t appear able to put two and two together on how transportation policy can effect national security, economic, and environmental policies.

  • David P. Jordan

    My point is that the two don’t have to be in conflict. LaHood just dismisses rail passenger service seemingly without thought.

  • Politics is politics is politics. Bad grammar, you say?
    When the word “politics” is used in a sentence, what difference does it make.

    Ray supported the highway to Chicago when only two local politicians ( I was one and the other at the time was Sandberg)appeared to be know that USDOT had changed their philosphy from “how fast can you get there” to “what should we do with the traffic when it gets there”?

    Each time the JSEB and Barbara wrote negatively about me they (she) always used the tag line “And he oppossed the highway to Chicago”.

    Then Ray supported the ring road and new bridge that has little chance of being built unless Caterpillar and LaHood can use “politics” to get it funded.

    Then Ray supported Rt. 29 as a highway to Chicago (so did I when the “projected” cost was $300 million. I stopped supporting it when it reached $600 million by 2005). Ray kept on supporting it and as late as this year tax dollars were still being spent to “study and acquire Rt. 29 land”.

    Interesting that Ray “retired” and was on the inside with his friend Emmanuel. Probably the only thing new about his appointment that the public was the only ones who didn’t see it coming.

    Interesting when you put it all together. Especially when Ray’s office supported McCounaghy who lost by an overwhelming vote to Schock.

    Big winner is Caterpillar and perhaps the Peoria area. All’s well that ends well.

  • […] of Transportation, and the ONLY place where you can read in-depth information and commentary on LaHood’s positions on transportation issues if at C.J. Summer’s […]

  • LaHood is a perfect choice for Obama. Barack can claim he is “reaching across the aisle” and appointing a “diverse” and “bipartisan” cabinet by including a few token Republicans like Ray who are not Conservative and just political wind vanes who will go along with his “post-partisan” administration.

  • TaxMeMore

    Ray LaHood didn’t get the job for his opinions, expertise, experience, or history regarding transportation. Don’t try to figure out what kind of job he will do based on what he’s done in the past. LaHood got the job because Daley couldn’t give it directly to Lipinksi, and the R-LaHood provides great cover for all the money flowing from Obama’s big infrastructure spending plans. There’s lots of money in the Depts of Education and Transportation, especially these days and there will be a lot more soon. With two Daley yes men perfectly in place, and another cutting the budget deals as Chief of Staff.

    Welcome to the new style of Chicago politics. Same as the old, suckers.

  • clayton

    Would LaHood have gotten this appointment if the possibility of a special election wasn’t looming?

    I was listening to a speaker late last week talk about how LaHood’s possibility of being the Secretary of Ag was elevated to keep him away from being a senate canidate.

  • New Voice

    I agree with Merle [if I read him correctly].
    The bright side to all of this… is that this new appointment will keep LaHood OUT of Peoria.

    This being said, I must now go back to disagreeing with Merle about everything else.

  • The Mouse

    Gee, wasn’t Rahm bargaining with Blago on the Senate seat?, and now he arranges a spot for LaHood.
    HMMMMM. CJ is right, of course, LaHood is anti-rail and can be expected to try to thwart the move away from highways and airports. He has no hands-on experience in transportation. Basically, a horrible choice.

  • New Voice


    When was the last time anyone here has used the train – departing from Pontiac or Bloomington?

    My wife went to Chicago a few weeks ago, leaving from Pontiac. Without going in to all the details, lets just say she will NEVER depart from Pontiac again [at least not without a gun for self- defense]. The train and the trip itself was enjoyable…the waiting in Pontiac was a nightmare. Imagine what a developed train station in/near Peoria could do to imrpove the situation….?

  • bbbb

    I’ve taking the train a number of time from Pontiac and Bloomington, and even Dwight–depending on if I was in Peoria or at family.

    It’s slower, it is low-priority and has to pull over for many other non-passenger trains. However, it drops me off downtown, I can take CTA to practically anything in the City and can take Metra to nearly everywhere I want to be in the burbs. The biggest advantage is that I don’t have to drive and I stress about idiot drivers, the weather, uncomfortable kids in the backseat. I can read, I can rest, I can gaze out the window, I can chat and play with my kids rather than ignore them in the backseat. I can have casual conversation with people, walk around the train and enjoy the trip through the countryside.

  • Carmen

    I’m old enough to remember going down to the River Station when it was an actual station, and boarding the Rocket for a day in Chicago. It was always a lovely trip; the ride to Chicago was part of the fun, instead of just transportation. I wouldn’t worry too much about LaHood’s prior record on train travel. What we have to remember about Cabinet members is that they’re there to carry out the President’s policies, not their own.

  • New Voice


    I agree with you, the train ride was great. It was departing from Pontiac that was the problem. Everything from parking scams to just plain having no facilities…..
    A major station in Peoria would not only be convenient, but probably safer, cleaner better organized, etc.

    It has been discussed before… having a train station in Peoria would also be great for local economy, etc.

    I agree with what you are saying, but the implication here is that LaHood [as Congressman from the 18th] NEVER lifted a finger to develop rail transport in Peoria……now he is Transport Sec to Obama????!!!!????

  • Sharon Crews

    I also remember going to the River Station building to catch the Rocket to Chicago. I also remember catching the InterUrban (I think it was called) at the present location of the police department–I took it to Decatur. Peoria really does need passenger rail service. Of course, I don’t know about demand–maybe people wouldn’t avail themselves of rail service.

  • SD

    Rail passenger service to and from Peoria is a good deal for the area’s economy. You could live here and work in Chicago or anywhere along the line. People could live in Chicago and go to Bradley, or ICC or any other place along the line. Having service to and from Peoria will bring money to Peoria. More conventions, more tourists, and many other seminars and services that Peoria can offer and get paid for. It’s cheaper, less fossil fuel and a lot of other things. Also freight rail is the cheapest way to ship and receive. There are many many pluses with rail service. Okay I’m off my soap box for a while.

  • kcdad

    Plus, we would have more opportunities to squash pennies on the rails.

  • nontimendum

    Yeah, continuing to have a strong voice from central Illinois in Washington is just horrible.

    You may not agree with him on every issue, but on balance this is great for the Peoria area.

  • Tulip

    I love Amtrak. Rail is a calm, economical, environmentally friendly mode of travel.

  • kramer

    I moved down here from Chicago this summer, and commute back up via Amtrak to teach two times a week when classes are in session. After a few weeks of experimenting, I abandoned the Bloomington stop completely for Princeton (on another rail line altogether). I found that train to be far more reliable than the other. It’s slightly farther from our home than Bloomington, but the predictability of the train makes it worth it. Just FYI. And yes – I’d love Amtrak from Peoria to Chicago!

  • New Voice

    Sure ……La Hood has been a “strong voice” for Peoria [in Washington] for how many years ALREADY?????

    Wow!!!! On top of all the other BS we can blame him for…we can also thank him for this current museum crap.

    *Excuse your french…..

  • Ryan Johnson

    I’ve had to take the train to and from Chicago (from a different state…but stil Amtrak). I hate it. I have to do it twice again this week. I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty nail. I will be leaving my parents house at 11 AM…I’ll get to my final destination at 9:00 PM if (and this is a big IF) with Amtrak) it’s on time. Were I to drive, it would take me four hours…tops.

    Amtrak sucks. Improve the highways, put money into maintenance..and this time of year, salt trucks and plowing. The whole reason I’m not driving is becuase the State of Michigan refuses to salt or plow after 6 pm or on weekends. I’m not looking forward to this trip at all. five hours..alone..on a train…with nothing to do.

  • nontimendum

    So since he is experienced in Washington we would be better off without this appointment? Must be that New Logic.

  • Robert

    Being part of a logistics firm I expect the Transportation Secretary would promote the Intermodal transportation and change the transportation crisis.