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LaHood: Congress must act on transportation needs

The Honorable Ray LaHood

(Pantagraph) – Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday restoring transportation funding is key to new economic opportunity.

LaHood, a former city planner and seven-term Peoria Republican congressman from the 18th District, told a group of about 100 city planners and other officials that Congress needs to pass a new transportation bill and fund it accordingly.

“We need a six-year bill. It needs to be a minimum of $500 billion,” he said during a keynote address at the Illinois Chapter of the American Planning Association’s annual conference in Normal. “That will be what really energizes America, puts people back to work and gets us back to being No. 1 in infrastructure.”

He also criticized a lack of federal funding for high-speed rail and stumped for a 10-cent-per-gallon increase to the federal gas tax.

“The highway trust fund is broken,” he said. “People in America are tired of the potholes, of the crumbling roads, of the bridges that are falling down, and when you invest in infrastructure, you’re investing in the American people. That money doesn’t stay in Washington.”

LaHood frequently praised the local officials in front of him and vilified Washington, D.C., which he said has become impossibly gridlocked by tea party Republicans who “don’t believe in the jobs they have.” He said no significant bill, including for transportation, will pass until after the 2016 election.

“What they believe is they have to vote ‘no’ on everything. … They’re the ones who shut down the government last year,” he said. “I know you all know this, but you need to continue to reinforce (it) with people you send to Washington, D.C., (and) people who you send to Springfield.”

At the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, LaHood spoke glowingly of the development of uptown Normal, which he credited to local officials such as Mayor Chris Koos and federal funding behind Uptown Station.

“That new Amtrak station has become a magnet for economic development,” he said. “This was a sterile neighborhood before.”

Koos returned the compliment, saying “everything you see in this community has Ray LaHood’s fingerprints on it.”

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