EDWARDS, IL. “Tolling and public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects are all good [approaches], but what we need now for our highways and bridges is more basic,” said former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood while addressing the media last evening at the Caterpillar Demonstration & Learning Center here.
“America is one big pothole,” continued LaHood (R-IL), who prior to joining President Obama’s cabinet served seven terms in Congress during which he sat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as well as the Appropriations Committee. “What Congress must do is pass a highway bill -- one with no earmarks or sweetheart deals in it - to get the money flowing again to where it’s needed.
“It should be a six-year bill and it should include raising the fuel tax by ten cents a gallon,” he argued. “That hike could be put in over several years. But most importantly, the bill should index the fuel tax to inflation.”
LaHood then remarked that “Ten cents is not nearly enough to fix the problem, but [making that increase] would send a message that the United States is back in the infrastructure business.
“And that’s a message that would be well-received by companies, such as Caterpillar, that build the equipment that builds roads,” he continued. “And by the many types of businesses looking to expand or re-locate that look first at the infrastructure that's in place [to support their activities].”
LaHood, who co-chairs Building America’s Future (BAF), a bipartisan infrastructure advocacy group, characterized the often-discussed concept of devolving control of infrastructure spending to the separate states as a “terrible idea-- the Interstate highway system was built to tie the country together without the interference of individual states.
“We must continue to have a national transportation system,” he added. “Every state doing their own thing - right down to having 50 different highway-safety program - is a dumb idea.”
LaHood also offered this thought about the Washington gridlock that makes passing something as historically uncontroversial and bipartisan as a comprehensive highway bill seemingly impossible: “Voters need to elect candidates who want to get things done. And politicians shouldn’t be afraid to raise the fuel tax to fix roads and bridges because voters want them fixed.”
Asked for his prediction on which party will take control of the Senate after Tuesday's mid-term elections, LaHood told Fleet Owner that “just six days out, no one really knows how that will turn out.
“Either way,” he added, “not much will get done [in Washington] over the next two years because both sides will be focused on winning the White House in 2016.”