Ray LaHood is probably best known to the broader public as the bureaucrat who has spent the last four years railing against distracted driving. Under his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Transportation, his department launched a public service onslaught warning of the modern perils of texting while driving (our favorite detail: the federal government now runs a slick website called distraction.gov).
LaHood himself told Politico last year that he thought his biggest legacy would be his record on safety. But, in fact, to policy wonks, this unlikely crusader – formerly a Republican congressman from Central Illinois – will soon leave the job as the man who in many ways fundamentally shifted how Washington thinks about transportation and the federal government’s role in it. After much speculation, LaHood finally announced this morning that he will step down for Obama’s second term.
Whoever takes over the Department of Transportation next (and we’ve got some thoughts on that front) will inherit an agency in the midst of a number of seismic transitions. LaHood may well be remembered as the agency head who got many of these movements underway. And we suspect – and hope – that there will be no turning back from any of them.
1) Transportation is about more than just highways. The federal DOT grew up alongside the Interstate Highway System, and for decades roads have been its focus. Now that emphasis is shifting at the federal level, to include a broader menu of mobility options, from high-speed rail to local transit to biking and even walking.