Ray LaHood: A 'Transformational' Time for the U.S. Transit System

The secretary of transportation talks about high-speed rail and the administration's priorities.

By + More

So you're not considering changing the way funding works systematically?

I think the thing that the mayors would really like to see changed is the metropolitan planning organizations, the MPOs. The mayors would like it if they would be much more broad-based—rather than just in a metropolitan area, that they take in a much larger area. I think that's the kind of reform that they're going to try to get into the highway bill. If they can convince the transportation committee to change, that's something that I think needs reform. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given U.S. infrastructure a D. Would you agree?

I would agree with them for last year. But I think when the grades come out after our economic recovery plan is implemented and after we move beyond that with the Highway Trust Fund, we'll get a good grade. Look, there hasn't been a lot of attention paid to infrastructure over the last eight years. There's been more attention paid to it in the last hundred days than there has in a long time. So a D probably is a good reflection of the past. I hope it's an A a year from now. How far can $13 billion for high-speed rail—$8 billion in the stimulus, $5 billion in the budget over five years—really go? The San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line alone is projected to cost more than $30 billion.

When you look back when the interstate bill was signed, I'm sure people were saying, "Well, where are we going to get the money for it?" And I guarantee you this, all of the lines weren't on the maps. Three decades later, we have an interstate system that's a model for the world, built with Highway Trust Fund money. Eight billion dollars is a lot of money. It will help jump-start opportunities all over America. You know what? It's an excellent start. What have the biggest obstacles been, historically, to the United States having a top-notch infrastructure?

Only the will to do things. Infrastructure isn't usually seen as a "sexy" topic. How do you get the public engaged in transportation issues?

The way to get people engaged is to listen to the people. America is ready for livable communities. America is ready for high-speed rail. America is sick and tired of spending hour upon hour sitting in their automobile trying to get to work, trying to get kids to school, trying to get to a doctor's appointment. Americans get it. They're ready for some opportunities to have greener communities, to have cleaner communities, and to have transportation options that perhaps they haven't had in the past. With that kind of support coming from people around the country, I think you're going to have a lot of leadership here in Congress.

Updated on 6/15/09