Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood opened the second day of the ALK Technology Summit in Princeton, N.J., on Wednesday by telling attendees that while the U.S. is "the greatest country in the world [our] transportation and infrastructure is a big mess."
LaHood served as theSecretary of Transportation from 2009 to 2013, the only Republican in President Barack Obama's cabinet.
While the severe winter of 2013-2014 didn’t do much to help the already poor state of the U.S. road infrastructure, LaHood primarily blamed lawmakers who believe they have been “elected to vote against everything,” he said. “There’s not the same level of vision in Congress today.”
He notes that the U.S. Interstate system, which was built during the post-World War II boom years, was among the best in the world and a job creator. “It you build it, it creates jobs,” he said. “When you build roadways, you create an economic engine and that’s what infrastructure is about.”
LaHood, who became a professional colleague and then a friend of then U.S. Senator Obama, has spent 35 years in public service, including as a congressman from the state of Illinois.
On top of his declaration that the U.S. infrastructure is in dire shape, LaHood had an even more dire warning for the ALK Technology Summit attendees. The Highway Trust Fund, which is financed by fuel taxes at the pump, is set to expire, and will effectively cut the lifeblood to the U.S. Interstate infrastructure.
He went on to predict that with the November bi-elections looming, Congress will most likely finance the Highway Trust Fund from the General fund, calling the idea “a disaster.”
In spite of his dire warnings, LaHood did have a remedy for the issue, and it was sitting in the room in front of him.
“Everyone has a representative in Congress and two senators. You need to start talking,” he said. “You need to educate lawmakers about technology in transportation. We need your help. We need to elect people who want to continue to solve problems and move the country forward.”
More specifically, he said that the fuel tax needs to be renewed for another six years and indexed, as it was in the 1980s during the Reagan Administration, to account for inflation. LaHood noted that this fuel tax was proposed and passed in the 1980s. “Infrastructure has always been a bi-partisan issue,” he said.
While LaHood’s speech included dire warnings, he sees greatness in the country still and left the audience with a kind of challenge.
“Every generation in America has left a legacy for the next generation. What are we going to leave? What are you going to do for your kids and grandkids?” he asked rhetorically.