Please pardon the length of this post, but I want to provide information on our incoming USDOT Secretary, Ray LaHood, a moderate Republican Congressman from central Illinois who was retiring from his seat this year. In summary, he's been great for us! He is an active supporter of bicycling and trails, and he has very visibly gone against the wishes of his party leaders on our issues:
In a letter da ted April 28, 1997, LaHood joined 5 other Republican House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee members in expressing support for both Enhancements and CMAQ to the committee chair, Bud Schuster. He also spoke to the Illinois Valley Wheelm'n bicycle club about his support of both of these funding sources, which he said "have provided many benefits to the environment and local communities (e.g., bicycle and recreational trails). I believe in the importance and value of these programs." Congressman LaHood's leadership was pivotal in ensuring that Enhancements would continue in TEA-21 (1998).
On July 11, 2003, a House Appropriations Subcommittee, led by Rep. Istook (R-OK), passed a fiscal year 2004 transportation budget that redirected the $600 million slated for Transportation Enhancements to highway construction. Zeroing out TE threatened it not only for that year, but for the reautho rization bill that became SAFETEA-LU. An effort to restore dedicated Enhancements funding barely failed in full committee, where LaHood was one of only two R's voting for it. In a tremendous and powerful 327-90 victory that solidified TE's status, a bi-partisan amendment won 327-90 on the House floor. LaHood stood up impressively to make a floor statement in support:
Ray LaHood's House floor statement, September 2, 2003:
"Mr. Chairman, I am a member of the Committee on Appropriations, and I think I am one of two members on our side who voted to support this effort to restore this program the way that it has existed for several years. I know it is probably not fashionable for me to be up here talking in favor of this amendment, but I feel strongly about it. I am a jogger. I have been a jogger for almost 30 years. I have taken full advant age of the Rails to Trails Program that exists in my congressional district and other parts of Illinois. I think it is a marvelous program. We have promoted around here a new caucus that has been formed by the Members to get Members to exercise more, to get Members to stay in shape. Part of the way that some of us do it is disembark from the Rayburn Building and jog down the Mall. It is not really a Rails to Trails, but it is a marvelous place to jog."
"You see people jogging all over this part of the country. You see people jogging along the parkway from Old Town all the way down to where George Washington once lived. These are Rails to Trails. These are opportunities for people that would not have existed without this program. The last thing I want to do is to turn this program over to the Governor of my State. Every State in the country has a deficit. I guarantee you what th ese Governors will do is not turn this money into Rails to Trails or other amenities or other enhancements. They will use it to fund other things."
"We have got a $5 billion debt in Illinois. We have got a Governor who has been in office now 6 months, a new Governor, who has not been able to figure out how to do that. But I guarantee you that if you hand him a bag of money from the enhancements, from the Rails to Trails, he will find other uses for it. As we are encouraging people all over the country to exercise, to be fit, to eat right, to exercise and to do things that will continue to make people healthy, there is no better way to do it than to have this program. I am encouraging Members to support this amendment. This is a good program. It is a program that works. It is not broke."
"I want to, too, mention what the gentleman from Oregon ta lked about, the whole issue of obesity. There has been more written about obesity in the last 6 months or so or last year. If we really want Americans to be fit and healthy and get in good shape, the way to do it is to allow for the enhancement program that has worked so well, that allows people to get outdoors, to ride their bikes, to jog, to walk. What better way to bring people in a community together. This program has been a marvelous program. We should not change it. It is a program that works. It is not broke. I encourage Members to support the amendment and continue the fine program we have had."
- In the SAFETEA-LU legislation, he pushed for higher funding levels for our programs and earmarked $670K for two major trail projects in his district
- At the 2004 Bike Summit, we presented him a certificate of appreciation, in person. I va guely recall that he seemed in favor of routine accommodation (Complete Streets), an opinion reiterated by his transportation staffer at the 2008 Summit.
I think we should all be pleased by Rep. LaHood's selection.Ed Barsotti
League of Illinois Bicyclists
2550 Cheshire Dr.
Aurora, IL 60504