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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visits Bloomington-Normal

February 13, 2010

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood visited Bloomington-Normal Friday attending a couple of events on his way back home to Peoria for the first time in a couple of months.

LaHood, a Republican congressman who represented residents of the 18th district for 14 years, became transportation secretary in January of last year.   Since becoming transportation secretary, LaHood has visited 35 states and 80 cities.

LaHood spoke at a McLean County Chamber of Commerce luncheon where he touted the administration’s $8 billion investment in high speed rail, including more than $1 billion in stimulus funding for high speed trains between Chicago and St. Louis.   IFB was represented at the meeting by district director Darryl Brinkmann and myself.   

The secretary compared President Obama’s committment to  high speed trains to President Eisenhower’s support for the interstate highway system and predicted that over the next 20 to 30 years the U.S. become a world leader in high speed rail travel.

At a transportation forum in Normal hosted by Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, Woodie Griffin, chairman of the  Illinois Association of Road and Transportation Builders asked LaHood to join him and others in calling for an increase in the federal gas tax to raise the $400- to 500 billion needed for a new multi-year transportation bill.

Given an unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent nationally and as high as 20 percent in some states, LaHood said President Obama can not support a gas tax increase, and predicted Congress won’t vote for it.

“It’s very hard on elected officials to go back to their districts and tell people — under these economic conditions — that they are going to raise a gas tax,” LaHood said.

LaHood praised Halvorson, as well as Sens. Durbin and Burris,  for voting for the stimulus bill last year.  He will announce another $1.5 billion in competitive discretionary transportation awards next week and said another $600 million in TIGER grants will be made later this year as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act approved last year.

IFB asked Secretary LaHood to support the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Hours-of-Service exemption for agriculture.   A couple of groups announced their plans last year to challenge agriculture’s exemption on safety grounds.

President Nelson will present LaHood the 2009 American Farm Bureau Federation’s Distinguished Service Award next month in Washington.  IFB nominated LaHood for the award, but he was not able to make it to San Antonio last year to accept it after being nominated for his cabinet post.

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