LaHood defines livable communities, some not satisfied

| 3/5/2010

Members of a Senate subcommittee are questioning whether highway tax funding should be used to promote a loosely defined proposal for livable communities.

The Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development conducted a hearing Thursday, March 4, on the topic of President Obama’s 2011 budget request.

The president’s request includes a call for $527 million to create a new multi-agency “office of livable communities” as part of a $77.6 billion proposal for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-MO, ranking Republican on the subcommittee, used the hearing to question U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about the proposal.

“What’s livability?” Bond asked during one colorful exchange.

LaHood offered the following definition: “Communities where people have access to many different forms of transportation and affordable housing and the ability to really have access to all of the things that are important to them, whether it’s a grocery store, drug store access. … These are communities and neighborhoods where people want to live where they have access to all the things that they want.”

Bond questioned the use of highway funds for the purpose, and pressed LaHood about the DOT funding sidewalks. Bond said the new bureaucracy would focus on cities, leaving rural people to question where their tax dollars go.

“Livability, in some areas, has a different meaning,” said Bond. “And I just question, if we’re looking at all these dollars to go in and build urban livability, there needs to be broader criteria as well.”

Exchanges between Bond and LaHood dominated the hearing. The two sparred over high-speed rail, TIGER grants, the administration’s proposal to create a national infrastructure bank and the issue of transparency in the release of information.

The chairman of the subcommittee, Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, led other lines of questioning pertaining to rail, cross-border trucking and other issues surrounding the president’s budget request.

– By David Tanner, associate editor