Ray LaHood
Ray LaHood

A former U.S. transportation secretary and congressman took Washington to task for not spending money on the nation’s infrastructure. “Without infrastructure, America would not be the great country that it is,” said Ray LaHood. But instead, bickering and gridlock in the nation’s capital has left thousands of bridges and roads in deplorable condition, leading LaHood to say, “America is a great big pothole.”

LaHood spoke Oct. 29 at Caterpillar’s Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center near Peoria, Ill. He was the area’s Republican congressman from 1995 to 2009 and served as President Obama’s transportation secretary from 2009-13.

LaHood recalled that when he was a congressman in the 1990s, all 75 members of the House Transportation Committee unanimously passed two six-year transportation spending bills. Not anymore. “There are people without that kind of vision in Washington right now,” he said. “We need to elect people who believe in progress and infrastructure. We need people in Washington who have some courage,” he said.

Two problems, he said, are that politicians do not want to raise taxes and “people run for Congress who don’t believe in government.”

LaHood suggests raising the federal gas tax by 10 cents a gallon and indexing it to the cost of living. “This is the lifeblood of infrastructure in America,” he said. “We need a great big pot of money.”

New highways give jobs to contractors and state departments of transportation. He calls these highways “economic corridors” that give jobs to small businesses.
Infrastructure programs have given the nation the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, and the Interstate Highway System. “There are people without that kind of vision in Washington right now,” he said.

In addition to infrastructure, Congress must also address immigration and tax reform, LaHood said.