Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Ray LaHood: 50 Years Ago, JFK Talked Transit
Thursday, April 05, 2012 - 06:46 PM
Really interesting post from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today on his fast lane blog, which we're reprinting here, in it's entirety.
LaHood is using the post to push Congress to pass an actual transportation bill, but still, history buffs, have a look.
(Text and photos from US DOT)
Here you go:
A lot changes in 50 years. In 1962, the U.S. population was 186.5 million, compared to today's 311.6 million, and a gallon of milk cost only 49 cents.
One thing that has not changed, however, is our country's need for good transportation.
In fact, on this day 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy wrote a Special Message to Congress on Transportation, and his message is as relevant today as it was in 1962: "An efficient and dynamic transportation system is vital to our domestic economic growth. Affecting the cost of every commodity we consume or export, it is equally vital to our ability to compete abroad."
In 1962, a mix of inconsistent and obsolete policy threatened the transportation system of the day. As President Kennedy said, "This patchwork does not fully reflect either the dramatic changes in technology of the past half-century or the parallel changes in the structure of competition."
In the half-century that has passed since that moment, another patchwork has emerged in the form of transportation extensions rather than a long-term solution.
President Kennedy understood that passing a national transportation plan would be no simple matter for Congress, even in 1962, but he urged legislators to persevere: "If direct and decisive action is not taken in the near future, the undesirable developments, inefficiencies, inequities, and other undesirable conditions that confront us now will cause permanent loss of essential services or require even more difficult and costly solutions in the not-too-distant future."
One of the most interesting aspects of President Kennedy's 1962 letter is its special emphasis on public transit: “The program I have proposed is aimed at the widely varying transit problems of our Nation's cities, ranging from the clogged arteries of our most populous metropolitan areas to those smaller cities which have only recently known the frustrations of congested streets.”
And for the first time, President Kennedy offered the basis for long-term public transit funding: "Only a program that offers substantial support and continuity of Federal participation can induce our urban regions to organize appropriate administrative arrangements and to meet their share of the costs of fully balanced transportation systems.”
It took 20 years, but in 1982 President Ronald Reagan signed into law a transportation plan--passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress--that added a dedicated transit account to our gasoline tax. This wasn't without an effort on President Reagan's part; to shepherd the bill through Congress, he had to end a Senate filibuster from his own party.
President Reagan's words upon signing this plan also remain relevant 30 years later: "Because of the prompt and bipartisan action of Congress, we can now ensure for our children a special part of their heritage -- a network of highways and mass transit that has enabled our commerce to thrive, our country to grow, and our people to roam freely and easily to every corner of our land."
American transportation--from roadways to runways and transit to tugboats--has benefited from a long history of bipartisanship. Unfortunately, today's Congress can no longer find its way to keep our national quilt stitched together.
And we find our infrastructure in a position that President Reagan understood was unacceptable: "Common sense tells us that it will cost a lot less to keep the system we have in good repair than to let it disintegrate and have to start over from scratch. Clearly this program is an investment in tomorrow that we must make today."
We've got work that needs to be done; we've got workers ready to do it. If we want to keep this country moving forward, it's time to put aside partisanship on transportation.