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This morning I wrote that solving our nation's transportation challenges, "requires vision--men and women who can develop innovative solutions, and champions who...have the fortitude to see them through." This afternoon, I want to share with you my thoughts about what it takes to be one of those champions.

Cross-posted from The Chicago Tribune.

I'm a lifelong Republican who served seven terms in Congress. When President Barack Obama called on me to serve in his historic administration, I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for truly bipartisan public service. Sure, we had our differences. But we shared a passion for public service — and that's what mattered.

As I close the last chapter in my book of service, I'm taking stock of the Washington I see today. Sadly, I see a town that is increasingly distracted by political sideshows and name-calling, which are hurting its ability to effectively address our most pressing issues.

Photo of Secretary LaHood at a DOT town hall meeting

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Over the weekend, I spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival about the future of American transportation. It’s an important topic, one that concerns everyone who uses our roads, bridges, rails and runways to get where they need to go or to get the goods they need.  So I think it's important to share with all of you some of what I said on Sunday.

Since day one, President Obama and our team at DOT have worked tirelessly to fulfill our vision of 21st century transportation and to give Americans the quality transportation choices they want and deserve. But we all know there’s more to do.

Photo of Secretary LaHood at groundbreaking in Roaring Forks, Colorado

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Under normal circumstances, transporting a lighted torch aboard a commercial aircraft is not permitted. It's the kind of thing DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would have serious concerns with for obvious safety reasons.

But sharing the JFK Eternal Flame with Ireland to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s first-ever visit to Ireland by a U.S. president is not a normal circumstance.

Photo of flame leaving JFK Airport for Ireland

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It's one thing to read or hear about Connected Vehicle technology--an innovation where cars communicate with each other and provide information to help drivers make safe decisions. It's quite another to ride in a vehicle equipped with this promising technology and experience the benefits firsthand.

Well, that's exactly what has been happening in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan for the past several months. As part of a real-world study, real people are driving nearly 3,000 vehicles equipped with this state-of-the-art safety technology.

Photographic diagram of signals emanating from vehicles at an intersection

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Every year around the Independence Day holiday, about 200 people are rushed to emergency rooms daily with fireworks-related injuries. These injuries can have a life-altering impact on people, including severe eye injuries, loss of limbs, and even death.

That's why DOT's Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration works closely with the Consumer Products Safety Commission; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Fireworks, and Explosives and the Department of Justice to enforce federal safety standards and raise awareness about the dangers of fireworks. It is absolutely imperative for us to come together to remind everyone about fireworks safety.

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American Public Transportation Association holds National Youth Summit

I spent part of this afternoon talking to a group of young people about the many benefits of public transportation. For tens of millions of Americans who can't--or choose not to--drive, transit is a lifeline to jobs, schools, groceries, medical services, and other essential destinations. When we talk about the transportation choices Americans have said they want, transit is a key part of the mix.

But, because not everyone knows about the value of transit, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) holds an annual Youth Summit to Advance Public Transportation. Each summer, APTA brings about 50 talented high school students to Washington, DC to learn about:

  • The environmental benefits of public transportation;
  • How communities can prosper through increased transit services;
  • The role of local and federal policies in public transit usage; and
  • Career opportunities in the transit industry.

Photo of Secretary LaHood listening to questions from APTA Youth Summit attendees

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Yesterday, President Obama introduced his bold plan to protect our kids’ health and begin to slow the effects of climate change so we leave a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations. I'm pleased to say that at DOT, we have been working hard to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and lessen transportation's reliance on oil.

From roadways and aviation to rail, transit, and maritime, that effort has been across all modes and ongoing.

Earlier this month, for example, Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC) Acting Administrator Craig Middlebrook attended the sixth Green Marine annual Green Tech Conference. Acting Administrator Middlebrook came home with something extra in his suitcase: certification of the SLSDC's environmental stewardship.

Photo of Acting Seaway Administrator Middlebrook accepting certification from Green Marine

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This morning, the National Freight Advisory Committee (NFAC) kicked off its first meeting, and everyone at DOT is excited to see this important effort move forward. After all, our ability to move freight plays an important role in our ability to grow the American economy. A healthy economy requires a transportation network that is always improving the way it circulates freight.

About 48 million tons of freight are transported across America each day, and every little improvement to our freight system can make a tremendous economic difference. That adds up to a daily value of $46 billion worth of new refrigerators, cars, food, raw materials, and machinery bound for factories, markets, and consumers.

Photo of Secretary LaHood addressing first National Freight Advisory Committee meeting

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Tukwila Station construction and mudslide mitigation underway

One of the highlights of my four and a half years as Transportation Secretary has been the progress we've made speeding up intercity passenger rail. Americans are riding the rails in record numbers, and thanks to President Obama's vision for high-speed rail, DOT is working hard to ensure they can ride at higher speeds.

And yesterday, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo helped celebrate another milestone in that effort, the groundbreaking of a new passenger rail station in Tukwila, Washington.

Photo of the Sounder Station groundbreaking in Tukwila

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One of the most important components of a healthy economy is modern port infrastructure to feed our maritime transportation system.  By investing in our waterways, we create jobs, improve economic competitiveness, and build prosperity over the long term.

Today at the Rhode Island Ports Showcase in Providence, Acting Maritime Administrator, Paul ‘Chip’ Jaenichen spoke about DOT’s commitment to making such investments.

Photo of Rep. Jim Langevin (front), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Acting Maritime Administrator Paul 'Chip' Jaenichen, and ProvPort Chief Operating Officer Bruce Waterson
Rep. Jim Langevin (front), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Acting Maritime Administrator Paul 'Chip' Jaenichen, and ProvPort Chief Operating Officer Bruce Waterson
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