US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood Visits the Twin Cities

From Dave Van Hattum, Policy and Advocacy Program Manager

The US DOT is forging a new path. Secretary LaHood’s visit to the Twin Cities on January 25, 2010, signaled a major shift in federal transportation policy—one that is already underway and will be part of the critically-needed new federal transportation bill.

Secretary LaHood’s ability to chart a new path is clear in his twelve-word definition of sustainable communities: “If you don’t want an automobile, you don’t have to have one”. Thank you Mr. Secretary, we couldn’t have said it better.

Providing more transportation choices, more housing near transit, and reducing transportation’s impact on the environment all are key components of the new DOT. And not only is the vision right on, but the funding priorities, new project selection processes and emphasis on accountability are as well.

In addition to a day-long listening session, Secretary LaHood announced that three additional stations can be added to the Central Corridor LRT.  The Federal Transit Administration will provide half the funding for the stations (and the entire project) and recently revised national light rail selection criteria (CEI) that had prevented adding the stations. Livability—in this case providing critical access for communities with large numbers of folks without autos—was immediately advanced.

Secretary LaHood’s team at the USDOT also noted their progress toward measuring different urban transportation projects (roads, transit, etc.) on a level playing field. In an historic move, all projects to be funded by the agency’s TIGER grants are being reviewed using the same criteria and by a multi-modal review panel. Given the DOT’s new sustainable communities partnership with HUD and the EPA and the announcement of new intercity high speed rail investments—including funding for planning the Twin Cities to Chicago route—it is clear that this isn’t “your grandfather’s  DOT” – another poignant LaHood-ism.

While the direction is clear, federal leaders need your support to complete the vision.  A federal transportation bill—with substantially increased funding for transit and bike/walk projects—is urgently needed.  Despite Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar’s leadership, this bill, which would raise federal gas taxes, has not been a priority of Congress.  Please let your congressman and Senators Franken and Klobuchar of the critical importance of new, strategic investments in transportation infrastructure.

Equally important will be efforts to get Minnesota’s transportation planning (i.e. MnDOT, Met Council, CTIB, counties, cities) ready for new federal priorities—priorities that appropriately focus on moving people rather than vehicles, enhancing communities, and linking transportation, land use, housing and environmental protection to larger goals of equitable economic and community development.