The ranking minority member of the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee expressed concerns during a hearing Thursday that money channeled toward sustainability initiatives undercuts financial support for highways and might "reflect a view that we want to get rid of auto transportation."
During questioning by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended the $527 million requested in the Obama administration's Fiscal Year 2011 budget for livability efforts at U.S. DOT. LaHood said highways are not being shortchanged.
"We have a state-of-art interstate system in America; we have very good roads," he said. "At DOT, we have an obligation to maintain our roads, to make sure they're fixed up, and in places in the country where they need capacity, we're for that. The idea we're giving up on our road program or don't care about highways is nonsense."
LaHood also underscored, however, the widespread frustration with traffic congestion and how many people want transportation alternatives. He discussed the importance of meeting transportation needs not with a "one size fits all" approach but rather through understanding the unique priorities and preferences of communities nationwide.
Efforts to create multimodal transportation systems in those communities, he acknowledged, "have to come from the ground up" and enjoy popular support.
Helping Americans gain better access to more transportation options, lowering travel costs, and providing affordable housing are also goals of the partnership.
LaHood, testifying at Thursday's hearing along with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, cited his agency's efforts to help state and local governments leverage investments in transportation infrastructure to advance sustainable development.
"As I have traveled around the country soliciting input on our surface transportation reauthorization, I heard resounding support for our livability initiative," LaHood told senators. "The feedback has been clear: It's time to rethink how we are investing in our nation's communities."
Witness statements and a video of this hearing are available at tinyurl.com/THUDRAAS-hearings.