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Transportation secretary Ray LaHood to step down

Tue, 29 Jan 2013 00:00:00 -0800

WASHINGTON -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, 67, who raised awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, said he will leave President Obama's Cabinet after a replacement is confirmed.

LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, has led the Department of Transportation since 2009. He announced his departure today on the agency's website. He has tried to curb distracted driving by pushing for state bans on the use of cell phones while driving, and also has helped negotiate corporate average fuel-efficiency standards.

He also hit Toyota Motor Corp. with record-setting fines for failing to recall vehicles promptly after incidents of unintended acceleration.

In an email to DOT employees this morning, LaHood praised the fuel economy deal for bringing transportation "into the 21st century," and improved safety regulations that have reduced highway deaths to their lowest levels since the early days of the automobile.

LaHood has wavered on the decision to stay or go over the past year. In an interview with The Associated Press that was published minutes before the formal announcement this morning, LaHood said he was "conflicted" about the decision.

"I have had a good run," he said. "I'm one of these people who believe that you should go out while they're applauding."

President Obama, in a statement, praised the work of the only Republican in his cabinet.

"Years ago, we were drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent," he said in a statement. "And Ray has never wavered in that belief."

Obama has not nominated a replacement for LaHood. Speculation about a successor has centered on Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee until his failure to win re-election in 2010.

Deborah Hersman, who Obama has twice appointed as the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, has also been suggested.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS RELEASE: Statement by the President on Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood

I want to thank Secretary LaHood for his dedication, his hard work, and his years of service to the American people -- including the outstanding work he's done over the last four years as Secretary of Transportation. I also want to thank Ray for his friendship. Years ago, we were drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent. And Ray has never wavered in that belief. As Secretary of Transportation, he has fought to create jobs and grow our economy by rebuilding our roads, bridges and transit systems. Under his leadership, we have made significant investments in our passenger rail system and laid the groundwork for the high-speed rail network of the future. And every American who travels by air, rail or highway can thank Ray for his commitment to making our entire transportation system safer and stronger. I am grateful to Ray for everything he's done, and I wish him only the best going forward.

By Gabe nelson - Automotive News