In January 2009, President Barack Obama named Ray LaHood as the 16th Secretary of Transportation. Despite being charged with Obama's daunting task of rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, LaHood accepted the nomination.
Detractors have noted that LaHood's experience with transportation-related issues is minimal, as many wonder if he is the correct person for the position. Those in favor of LaHood argue that his past experiences as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee provide adequate qualification.
The ARRA is expected to pour billions of dollars into the nation's infrastructure, and LaHood is leading the charge to ensure funds are spent in a timely and proper manner.
CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION recently conducted an interview with LaHood in order to sort out questions regarding ARRA, and more specifically, its impact on the nation's infrastructure.
CC: There is plenty of money in the ARRA package to maintain and repair our infrastructure. How much more money is needed to improve our infrastructure and when will these funds become available?
Ray LaHood: Many believe that America's transportation system needs greater investment, and I share that view. How much more is unclear, and how best to pay for it is still unclear. As Congress works to reauthorize surface transportation assistance programs, they will be addressing both questions—and the U.S. Department of Transportation will work with them to that end. Our goal is a better transportation infrastructure system that creates jobs and strengthens our economy.
CC: If there is a quicker-than-expected economic rebound, many of the infrastructure projects could start just in time to compete with renewed private spending. Is there a way to get infrastructure projects moving quicker and ensure that they help with the rebound and don't lag and come about later when they aren't the help they were intended to be? What are your thoughts on timing and how to influence it?
LaHood: We are moving as quickly as possible to get recovery money into the economy, when it can do the most good. President Obama fought for passage of ARRA and signed it into law on Feb. 17, 2009, less than one month into his administration. Only about two weeks later the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration started to obligate funds to the states so they can get working on their projects. Even before ARRA passed, we had been talking with the states and localities to identify projects, and we had set up a team within the Department of Transportation to expedite getting the money to these projects. We are committed to getting the money out the door as quickly and responsibly as possible.
CC: What effect will the infusion of federal monies through ARRA have on the amount appropriated in the reauthorized surface transportation bill? Is funding likely to be lower than it otherwise would be? Why or why not?
LaHood: That too is a good question for my former Congressional colleagues. We don't believe the two are connected. ARRA funding is a one-time infusion of badly needed investment in our roads, bridges, and transit systems, while reauthorization will focus on multiyear, longer-term investment. If anything, the effect that ARRA has had already is proof that more is needed. The roads, bridges, and transit systems need more than we have given them for the past many years, and this is our opportunity to get it right and to make things better for many years to come.