LaHood: Students are “next leaders in transportation”

Originally published November 12, 2010

Ray LaHood addressed more than 250 students, transportation industry professionals and Bradley faculty Wednesday at the Future of Midwest Transportation symposium.

The U.S. Transportation Secretary was the keynote speaker at the all-day event that featured prominent industry representatives in town to discuss the future of transportation in the Midwest.

Covering everything from green career opportunities and jobs created by the stimulus bill and the relationship [between freight rail trains and high speed trains, LaHood attempted to “have a little conversation about transportation.”

LaHood kicked off his speech by saying he was glad to be back in Peoria, which raised a cheer from the crowd.

The East Peoria native and 1971 Bradley graduate said Illinois is a priority when it comes to the future of transportation in America.

“I want to make sure my hometown isn’t left out as we expand high speed rail across the country,” he said.

Those high speed trains were one of the focuses of LaHood’s speech, and he said it is one of the few places in transportation where America isn’t up on the international trends.

“We have a state of the art interstate system and we have a state of the art freight rail system,” he said. “We are very behind in high speed rails. Europe and Asia are way ahead of us.”

And those high speed trains, in addition to normal trains like Amtrak, are the future of transportation.

“[At least] 80 percent of America will be connected by train,” he said. “Not because it’s what Ray LaHood said, but because it’s what the people want.”

Another main focus of LaHood’s address and the questions that followed centered on the recent elections and how President Barack Obama’s Democrats have lost control of the House of Representatives.

However, LaHood said transportation legislation is historically bipartisan.

“People on transportation committees in the House just care about transportation – they don’t want to score political points,” he said. “They just want to get something done.”

And although LaHood is a Republican, he said political leanings won’t factor into next year’s anticipated transportation bill.

“It will be bipartisan, I’ll be shocked if it’s not,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which way the wind is blowing in Washington, it will put our friends and neighbors back to work.”

LaHood recognized the number of students in attendance at the symposium, calling them “the next leaders in transportation.”

Engineering students were on hand to show off their senior projects, and other members of the Bradley community were also involved in the symposium.

Several students in ELH 381, Bipartisan Leadership, were invited to introduce some of the major speakers at the event.

Senior English major Sarah Nichelson had the opportunity to introduce James McCommons, author of “Waiting on a Train.”

“I was really nervous, even though I know I shouldn’t be,” she said. “But to be in a room full of important people like that, it signifies that I’ve done something right.”

McCommons spoke about his experiences riding Amtrak trains for a year, a topic Nichelson said she can easily relate to.

“I ride trains all the time, so it was very personal for me,” she said. “This is a cause very near and dear to my heart.”