LaHood departure leaves another vacancy in Cabinet

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 29, 2013 at 3:10 pm •  Published: January 29, 2013
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LaHood served seven terms in Congress representing a central Illinois district that includes his hometown of Peoria, Ill., before he was chosen by Obama for the post. He traveled widely, visiting 49 states, 210 cities and 18 countries promoting Obama's agenda. He made trips that allowed him to ride some of the world's fastest trains and inspect the latest vehicles at auto shows.

In Washington, he would occasionally don a bicycle helmet and pedal around the District to promote bike lanes.

At the start of the new administration, LaHood spearheaded efforts to stimulate the economy through transportation construction projects and promoted the administration's vision of a nation connected by high-speed trains. But the high-speed rail program, which was supposed to be one of the president's signature projects, has been on life-support since Republicans regained control of the House in the 2010 election.

LaHood was the administration's chief advocate for greater spending to repair and improve the nation's aging transportation network. But his impact was limited by the administration's refusal to back an increase in the federal gas tax or an alternative long-term funding scheme. Congress last year agreed on a plan that delays for two years decisions on how the nation will pay for highway and transit programs while giving states more flexibility in how they spend federal money.

Perhaps LaHood's most passionate work involved distracted driving, which he called a "national epidemic." He launched a national media campaign to end texting and cellphone use by drivers, an awareness campaign that drew comparisons to efforts to promote seat belt use more than a generation ago. He buttonholed auto executives to help reduce driver distraction and would even yell at other drivers on occasion to put down their cellphones.

"Every time someone takes their focus off the road — even if it's just for a moment — they put their lives and the lives of others in danger," he said in 2010.

During his tenure he slapped Toyota Motor Co. with record fines for delaying safety recalls and failing to promptly report problems to federal regulators. And he recently ordered United Airlines to ground its Boeing 787 Dreamliner following mishaps with the aircraft's batteries.

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Associated Press writer Joan Lowy contributed to this report.

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Follow Ken Thomas at: http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas