Secretary LaHood and Shifting the Way we Build

President Obama reached across the political aisle when he selected Representative Ray LaHood, a Republican from Illinois, as his Transportation Secretary. The appointment was met by some skepticism: LaHood's resume on transportation issues was decried as very thin.

But Secretary LaHood earned special praise earlier this week when he joined the leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in a new Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a landmark effort in recognizing the vital and logical but not always well understood relationship between housing, transportation and the environment.

The ambitious, collaborative approach these three agencies are taking will have a positive impact on the lives of millions of Americans and represents a shift in the way we build our country and protect our environment.

Considering that housing and transportation account for two of the largest slices of our emissions pie, the Partnership and its forthcoming work will be essential to America's continued prosperity in the 21st century.

In testimony before a Senate committee, Secretary LaHood noted the urgent need to reduce emissions, the health benefits of well-designed efficient communities and the savings associated with public transit. As my colleague Kaid Benfield noted in his blog, Secretary LaHood's testimony painted a clear picture for the future of transportation:

"Transportation can play an enhanced role in creating safer, healthier communities with the strong economies needed to support our families," he said.

"Integrating transportation planning with community development and expanding transportation options will not only improve connectivity and influence how people choose to travel, but also lower transportation costs, reduce dependence on foreign oil and decrease emissions," LaHood continued. "All segments of the population must have access to safe and convenient transportation options to get to work, housing, medical services, schools, shopping and other essential activities including recreation."

As EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson succinctly put it in her own testimony before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, "where you live affects how you get around, and how you get around often affects where you live. Both decisions affect our environment."

Secretary LaHood's statement, which highlighted the economic and environmental importance of developing a new transportation network (and ethos) in the United States, showed strong vision in thinking outside the highway box. And the Partnership for Sustainable Communities is poised to do just that.