Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood Answers Streetsblog Readers’ Questions

Last month, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood invited Streetsblog readers to submit questions for a Q&A installment on his blog, Fast Lane. Here are his answers. (For maximum effect, picture the secretary delivering these remarks while standing on a table.)

Since March, I’ve been doing a monthly video series called “On the Go with Ray LaHood,” where I respond to questions from the public. I want to thank Streetsblog readers for supplying the bulk of the questions we received this month.

But in my latest “On the Go” video, I was only able to answer a few of them. Since you provided so many great questions, I thought it would be nice to answer a few extra ones right here on Streetsblog.

On my Fast Lane blog, Josef Szende asked, “Does the USDOT consider its job on creating a sustainable transit system to be over once the majority of the country is using electric vehicles?”

Josef, it’s true that I’m excited about Electric Vehicles. They’ve got a lot of potential to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and they really help solve the problem of tailpipe emissions. But many people don’t want to own cars–electric or otherwise. And, with transportation costs as the number two item in most household budgets, we know Americans need access to affordable transit options.

So this DOT is pushing forward to continue growing innovative transit systems across the U.S. For example, our Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has a very popular Urban Circulator program and a successful New Starts program that, on Monday, announced nearly $1.6 billion for 27 projects nationwide.

And earlier this week, to support President Obama’s emphasis on sustainability, the FTA announced more than $100 million in competitive grants for emerging clean fuel and hybrid or electric propulsion technologies for transit buses.

On Facebook, Kyle Merville asks, “How could DOT encourage a more even spread of transportation money to cities? How can the DOT invest in urban infrastructure and modernize it to better serve the citizens who depend on these systems daily?”

Well, Kyle, the answer is that DOT awards a number of grants to America’s urban areas. The FTA has a specific Urbanized Area Formula program for transit capital investments — including the kind of system maintenance you ask about. In addition, FTA also offers a Bus and Bus Facilities program, a Metropolitan and Statewide Planning program, and several other programs that make awards to cities.

We may not have a road program dedicated to urban areas, but that doesn’t mean the state departments of transportation don’t balance urban, suburban, and rural needs appropriately. In fact, many of the largest highway and bridge improvement projects our Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funds are located in urban areas. The FHWA also has programs to improve air quality, and most of those awards end up in our nation’s cities.

Then we have our very popular TIGER I and TIGER II discretionary programs, where cities and regions applied directly for support. Our competitive TIGER awards funded many creative projects to solve problems across America — multi-use paths, transit systems, road and bridge projects — and many of these were in urban areas. And, if you look at the transportation recommendations the President has sent to Congress for 2012, we’ve made sure to include programs where cities and regional partnerships can come directly to us.

The last question comes from Clarence Eckerson, Jr., who asks, “Would you go for a bike ride with Streetfilms?”

I’m sorry to tell you this, Clarence, but Washington, DC’s Jay Mallin has beaten Streetfilms to the punch on this one. Earlier this month, Jay joined us for a DOT bicycle commute and produced this video. I hope everyone enjoys his video, and, once again, thanks for the terrific questions. Please keep them coming!

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Mr Secretary, nice video!  Though I think my riding footage of you would blow you away.  Maybe next year?  🙂

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