It's official: LaHood says he will step down soon

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 1/29/2013

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he will step down once a successor is brought on-board. Having served in President Obama’s cabinet since 2009, LaHood’s legacy will certainly be tied to his campaign to stop distracted driving.

“I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation,” LaHood stated in a memo to Department of Transportation employees on Monday, Jan. 29. 

“I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the department and all the important work we still have to do.”

The announcement ends the debate about whether LaHood will stay or go. Typically, a secretary of transportation does not stay long after one term.

In his memo, LaHood commended DOT employees for their hard work and spoke highly of the department’s legacy under his watch.

“Our achievements are significant. We have put safety front and center with the Distracted Driving Initiative and a rule to combat pilot fatigue that was decades in the making,” he stated. “We have made great progress in improving the safety of our transit systems, pipelines, and highways, and in reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows. We have strengthened consumer protections with new regulations on buses, trucks, and airlines.”

With the DOT’s jurisdiction over interstate carriers and trucking in general, LaHood launched a campaign against distracted driving. The DOT banned texting while driving for truck and bus drivers in 2009 and clamped down on the use of electronic communication devices, including phones.

LaHood convened the first ever summit on distracted driving that brought together transportation and safety groups to tackle the problem. Although the Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction does not apply directly to drivers of passenger automobiles, LaHood extended a hand to advocates and various groups to spread the anti-distraction message.

LaHood has been a supporter of high-speed rail and bike paths.

Under direction from Congress in the “no earmark” era, he pushed the DOT’s discretionary grant program for transportation work, including rail and bike paths. Sometimes, the grants would clash with what individual lawmakers wanted for their districts, leading to debate about decision-making power concerning the nation’s infrastructure. That debate will continue in the post-LaHood years.

LaHood’s department oversaw the implementation of a number of regulations that affect trucking including CSA, a pilot program granting U.S. authority to Mexico-domiciled motor carriers, and fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

LaHood has not provided a specific exit date, and President Obama has yet to name his successor. As can be expected, various names are floating around Capitol Hill.

Prior to taking the helm at the DOT, LaHood served his home state of Illinois for seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the only Republican serving in President Obama’s cabinet, carrying on a tradition of bipartisanship in transportation.

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