Addressing a meeting in Chicago last week, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called for the development of regional transportation plans by counties and cities, which would be implemented with direct federal funding.
LaHood spoke Sept. 3 to the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association. After congratulating the organization on Illinois' success in obligating 80 percent of its economic recovery highway funds, LaHood turned to authorization of the federal surface transportation programs.
LaHood made the following remarks regarding his desire to send federal transportation dollars directly to local governments, bypassing state transportation departments, which historically have been responsible for allocating most of a state's federal funding:
"Looking ahead, beyond the recovery act, I believe it's time to re-think our federal spending priorities and focus on transportation investments that more effectively meet the needs of our communities.
For many years, federal transportation spending has mainly been driven by rigid formulas and divided by modes of transportation -- with separate funding for each type of need, from highways to subways to ferries. We need to turn this around, so that our priorities and the outcomes people care about -- such as building transit and affordable housing closer together -- drive our investments.
In order for this to happen, we have to change the way we operate. We need to make our national priorities clear -- and then empower state and local jurisdictions and other stakeholders to make them a reality.
And we don't want to pit one mode of transportation against another. Instead, we're asking communities to put outcomes first -- and then determine the type of transportation infrastructure that works best to meet those outcomes. We're hoping and expecting that this will be an effective way to strike a new balance among all forms of transportation.
We also want to allow counties and cities to work together to develop regional plans reflecting both regional and national priorities. Then we'd fund them directly. The fact is, metro areas hold over 80 percent of the U.S. population. They're major centers of economic activity. And they account for most of the congestion and greenhouse-gas emissions.
Empowering metro regions to tackle their transportation and energy problems will move us closer to enjoying cities and suburbs that are cleaner, less congested, and less polluted than many are today.
We think all this can be accomplished without sacrificing the important investments that also need to be made in rural towns. What's really important isn't the size of a project or a jurisdiction. It's whether we can succeed in investing in transportation projects that enhance our quality of life and help us compete economically."