LaHood could be good for Colorado train backers

The pending appointment by the Obama administration of Republican Illinois Rep. Ray LaHood as secretary of transportation could be a positive sign for public transportation buffs in Colorado who would love to see light rail expanded on the Front Range and a high-speed train into the mountains.

The Chicago Tribune notes that “unlike many Republicans in Congress, LaHood has a record of supporting funding for Amtrak and public transit.”

President-elect Barack Obama has said he would like to see the nation’s mass transit system radically improved — something that may be addressed as part of his administration’s economic stimulus package — especially to include high-speed rail between major American cities.

While the Interstate 70 corridor connecting Colorado’s most populous cities on the Front Range to the relatively rural Western Slope and its energy fields and resort playgrounds doesn’t exactly qualify as a major-metro transit corridor, it is a vital economic pipeline for the state, as well as the nation’s major east-west route for interstate trucking.

Gov. Bill Ritter has already targeted $1.5 billion in transportation infrastructure upgrades he’d like to see of the state — mostly decrepit road and bridge fixes — but the dream of mass transit along the I-70 corridor seems a distant one given the year-long recession.

Even the hoped-for financing panacea of oil-and-gas severance tax funds may not pan out given the sharp drop in energy prices, meaning that the new state Legislature’s top priority in January — fixing Colorado’s buckling transportation system — might come down to wrangling over a menu of unpopular tax hikes and fee increases.

According to at least one national environmental group, LaHood — the first Republican and only Arab-American selected so far for Obama’s cabinet — is an ideal choice to ensure the nation’s transportation infrastructure is rebuilt with green sensibilities and an emphasis on mass transit.

Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the expected appointment of LaHood to head up the Department of Transportation:

President-elect Obama’s choice of Ray LaHood to head the Department of Transportation highlights the need for bipartisan efforts to fix our broken transportation system. Congressman LaHood will face some of the greatest transportation and infrastructure challenges in our nation’s history, but also some of the greatest opportunities. His first priority, a green economic recovery package, will require a strong commitment to repairing our broken bridges, roads, and tunnels, and investing in new and existing public transit. All of this will help to create green jobs and re-charge our economy. Congressman LaHood has always worked across the aisle and with environmental groups, and, at this pivotal moment for our nation, we look forward to working with him to chart a course toward a clean, energy-efficient transportation system.


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