CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood emphasized the bipartisan nature of transportation during the annual Transportation Economic Development Conference, which began in Charleston Monday morning.
Government and private sector leaders from across the country attended.
"There are no Republican or Democratic roads. There are no Democratic or Republican bridges," LaHood said. "I am optimistic we will pass a transportation bill this year."
LaHood said he is committed to finishing Corridor H to connect central West Virginia to interstate highways in Virginia and to Washington, D.C.
High-speed railroads are also a major priority.
"It took us 50 years to build the interstate highway system. The previous generation constructed our freight-train network. High-speed railroads are coming to America today."
LaHood, a Republican Congressman from Illinois for 14 years, asked, "How do we pay for it?
"We can spend money on transportation projects and we can set aside money to pay our deficit. Let's get a bill passed this year. A good transportation bill gives the country a big vision," LaHood said.
Today, the 3,090-mile Appalachian Development Highway System has 32 highway corridors in 13 states. Launched in 1965 by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the ADHS system is now 85 percent complete.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, both D-W.Va., stressed the importance of passing Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation and new highways legislation.
Intense congressional battles about the federal budget and deficit are posing barriers to their passage.
"We can't talk about roads, bridges or rails without acknowledging the new and dire fiscal cuts on the table," Rockefeller said. "I grow more and more frustrated.
"Money is the 800-pound gorilla in every room in Washington right now as we struggle to rein in the deficit ...after almost a decade of giving away trillions in tax cuts to the very wealthy and corporate tax loopholes, while fighting two-and-a-half wars.
"Extending the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans -- including the estate tax relief that benefits only one quarter of 1 percent of all Americans who die -- will cost us $700 billion over the next decade....
"But if you talk about eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy," Rockefeller said, "you are somehow against free enterprise."
Rockefeller believes it is critically important "to acknowledge where most of the money went so we can be smart about how to get back on track."
Rockefeller criticized the Ryan Budget bill passed by the House.
"Every part of our transportation network is in jeopardy today because of a crusade in Washington to rein in the deficit exclusively with spending cuts -- something that's never worked and is fundamentally short-sighted."
The Ryan bill, he said, would cut $14 billion from transportation expenditures next year.