Now is the Moment

When you are the person at the very top of the ladder, the world looks has to look different. That’s why Harry Truman had his The Buck Stops Here sign on his Oval Office desk.

by John Latta, Editor-in-Chief, jlatta@rrpub.comby John Latta, Editor-in-Chief,

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has to convert what he calls the President’s big, bold vision to transform our transportation landscape into a reality. So there’s a virtual Truman sign on his desk. It’s interesting, to say the least, to sit down with him and see how he feels about it.

What he did in our One II One interview (see Page 40) was to touch on the key points in this vision, the main changes that he wants to implement. You’ll recognize the buzzwords: high-speed rail, livability, sustainability, integration, reauthorization, distracted driving, jobs, red tape and congestion.

LaHood is nothing if not passionate about his job. I imagine it would be impossible to tackle if he wasn’t. There’s something of a gee-whiz enthusiasm to his approach to it. We are, he says, in transformational times and, “This is the moment. It really is.”

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama pointed out that our way of government can sometimes be “contentious and frustrating and messy.” But some countries, he said, don’t have this problem and in those places, “if the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed.”

Using the power to change the way we do things should be a contentious and frustrating and messy procedure. What the Administration wants to do with transportation should be a difficult transformation to achieve, dependent on a process that is subject to a variety of public influences in a variety of forms.

The biggest and boldest vision he is working with is high-speed rail. “We’re building on what others have done for us by saying we’re going to build the next transportation system for the next generation, which is high-speed rail.” There is, he says, no turning back. With HSR, and other initiatives, the Administration is claiming an Eisenhower-like ability to divine America’s transportation needs for the coming decades.

LaHood also recognizes that he is in charge at a critical time for our existing infrastructure. If “this is the moment,” as he says, then by definition it must be seized or lost. He intends to do that and I am part of the public voice that will keep his feet to the fire. But he also insists that transportation is still bipartisan, even today, and that, in the end, is the basis of his unbridled optimism.

I may have reservations, but he doesn’t.