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New Transportation Secretary Will Listen

Published December 21, 2008

WASHINGTON D.C. (BRAIN)—Advocacy groups were thrown a slight curveball when President-elect Barack Obama recenty nominated Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) as his Transportation secretary.

Not only was LaHood (pictured) not among the original names mentioned for the position, he is a Republican. The only other Obama Cabinet member that can stake that claim is Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who's been asked by Obama to stay on.

"[It's] a solid opportunity for the bicycling community," said Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, of LaHood's nomimation. "He's known for being bipartisan, civil, a good listener and bringing people together."

Although LaHood, 63, doesn't have much transporation experience during his seven terms in the House—and even though LaHood's district in Southern Illinois isn't viewed as bicycle friendly—he has supported several bike initiatives, Blumenthal said.

"LaHood is reportedly not a fan of transportation business-as-usual," Blumenthal said. "He doesn't see building more highways as the best or only way to solve our
transportation challenges. That's important, and good.

"While a [James] Oberstar, [Earl] Blumenauer or [R.T.] Rybak (mayor of Minneapolis) as Transportation secretary would have been great, I believe we'll be able to work well with Mr. LaHood."

Not only is Blumenthal busy answering questions about what LaHood's nomination means to the bicycle industry, he's also trying to have a certain amount of money set aside for bike-related projects in the upcoming stimulus package, which could run in the neighborhood of $675 billion to $775 billion over two years.

Blumenthal estimates of that amount a possible $85 billion could be put aside for transportation, which would be in line with Obama's ambitious public works program.

"I've never seen such a frenzy," Blumenthal said of the different interest groups wanting a piece of the stimulus package. "Right now we're working with members of Congress, and directly to the people who make the decisions. We have $2 billion in [bicycle] projects ready to go."

—Jason Norman

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