Former DOT Sec. LaHood: “We need a big pot of money” to fix America’s roads and bridges

Marcia Doyle Headshot
Updated Oct 31, 2014

Ray LaHood

Continuing his “America is one big pothole” theme, former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood used an appearance at a Caterpillar press event Wednesday night to lambast the present direction of U.S. transportation policy.

Calling the 2-year transportation bill passed in 2012 “chintzy,” LaHood called upon Congress to think as roads as economic corridors. “I hear people today talking about alternative methods of funding, but what we need is a big pot of money. We need to raise the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon. Do it over two to three years, but index it to the cost of living.”

If that index had happened in 1993, the last year the gas tax was raised, America would have the “big pot of money” that LaHood advocates. Even a 10 cent raise is not near enough, “but it would send the message that America’s serious” about its roads and bridges.

Even though politicians don’t want to raise taxes, the states have taken another direction, LaHood says. “In states where they’ve had a referendum to raise the gas tax one or two pennies, 95 percent of the referendums have passed because people know it’s going to roads.” His advice to these politicians: “Don’t be afraid to raise the gas tax, because people won’t be made at you. “

LaHood, who served as DOT secretary from 2009 to 2013, calls the movement to transfer highway funds to state coffers, to be used at their discretion, “a terrible idea. “There is value in having a national program,” he says. “Do we really want 50 states doing their own thing,?” he asked.

He calls the Nov. 4th elections critical. “We need to elect people who want us to be No. 1 in infrastructure development, instead of where we are, at No. 16,” LaHood says. “It’s an important election but there’s a lot of apathy.”

Contractors have a responsibility in this election to let their Congressional representatives know the importance of a 6-year highway bill, LaHood contends. ‘Persuade your Congress people to be bold, and to have vision” with regards to a long-term highway bill. “Almost every segment of the economy benefits,” he says; “there’s no downside.”