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Foxx has the makings of a great Transportation Secretary

President Obama yesterday nominated Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as the next Secretary of Transportation. If Foxx's experience in Charlotte is any indication, he'll make a strong choice.

Charlotte streetcar construction. Photo by Reconnecting America.

During his nomination press conference, Foxx said "cities have had no better friend" than the US Department of Transportation under outgoing Secretary Ray LaHood, and that if confirmed he would hope to "uphold the standards" LaHood set. That's great news.

The fact that Foxx comes from a major central city is also a huge benefit. It means he understands urban needs, which aren't just highways.

Charlotte may not be New York, but it's made great strides in the right direction. The city's first rail line opened a few years ago, and a streetcar line is under construction now. Charlotte also gained bronze-level status as a bike friendly community in 2008, and launched bike sharing in 2012.

Foxx has been a strong advocate for urban rail, especially streetcars. He knows transportation and land use are tied at the hip, and has fought repeated attacks on Charlotte's streetcar by former Mayor and current North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.

He's also worked as an attorney for bus manufacturer DesignLine.

Foxx also knows that state Departments of Transportation can sometimes be part of the problem. At the federal level, it's common for USDOT to delegate responsibilities and funding to state DOTs, under the assumption the states have a better understanding of local needs. But state DOTs aren't any more local than any huge centralized government. And since they usually focus on highways, the result is that federal dollars mostly go to highways as well.

Since Foxx fought with the state over Charlotte's streetcar, he knows that funneling everything through state DOTs means states hold the cards. He knows that can hurt cities.

Finally, Foxx hired Arlington, VA's former county manager, Ron Carlee, to run Charlotte's city government. Foxx would have heard about Arlington's reputation for progressive transportation planning during the hiring process, and presumably counted it in Carlee's favor.

Of course, no one can really predict what kind of Secretary Foxx will be. When progressive champion Ray LaHood was first tapped for the job, the blogosphere worried his history as a Republican from rural Illinois meant he'd be a status quo highway builder.

But we do know that Foxx has made a priority of building transit in his home city, and has had to fight to make it happen.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Agreed, Obama did well with this one. Get long term economic viability by transitioning our focus from car oriented economic development to rail.

by Thayer-D on Apr 30, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

To be fair to North Carolina's governor, Pat McCrory championed Charlotte's light rail line, and fought for (and later fought to retain) the transit tax that financed light rail and an expanded bus network. All of that predated Foxx's mayorality.

I'm not sure what caused the streetcar fight; but considering that NC will need a pro-rail, pro-city governor to hold the tide against a legislature that is ideologically opposed to rail and cities (but strangely not ideologically opposed to subsidized freeways and the state's entrenched rural patronization regime), I think we should give credit where credit is due.

Foxx gets credit for expanding the system, streetcars, and the city's bike policy; but I think we should give McCrory the benefit of the doubt vis a vis the current fight over streetcars--at least for now.

by Steven Harrell on Apr 30, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

He seems so well-qualified and well-connected, a filibuster is all but guaranteed :-(

by Adam on Apr 30, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

Steven is correct. Though he has moved to the right politically since running for NC Governor, Pat McCrory presided over the initial Charlotte transit tax vote, smart growth push, adopting a 25 year transit plan, and fighting NCDOT to implement complete streets. And he importantly pushed hard for the formerly controversial, now popular LRT starter line, including fighting back against a 2007 tax repeal effort that massively failed (70% against) just weeks before the line opened. Without McCrory, the city's business community and other advocates, there would be no LRT extension or streetcar line. This is all the more impressive considering he is a Republican (though now unfortunately less moderate).

McCrory and Foxx reportedly were never great friends on the council, but the latest fight was due to the city trying to take over funding of the streetcar while McCrory was arguing all transit spending including the streetcar should flow through the county transit commission governing the transit system and sales tax. The state is also proposing to take away control of CLT Airport--one of the nation's busiest--from the city, which has only further strained city/regional/state relationships.

All this isn't to say Foxx won't be a strong USDOT Secretary, but McCrory deserves a lot of credit for moving the city away from its sprawling past, strengthening its downtown, and setting Charlotte's future direction.

by Jonathan P on Apr 30, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

If you like new Beltway highways, then yes, it's a great choice.

Charlotte is just finishing its I-485 Beltway.

Charlotte metro is planning the Monroe Bypass (20 mile interstate connecting to I-485 on the southeast side) and Garden Porkway (22 mile interstate connecting to I-485 on the west side).

Yes, Charlotte has a light rail for yuppie gentrification, but this is mostly a distraction in their transportation budget.

North Carolina is one of the more ambitious highway promoting states.

by Mark on Apr 30, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

Ray LaHood pushed through yet another increase in highway spending rates.

The Democrats want an "all of the above" approach - more highways, more transit, nice words on bikes. It's why the Democrats in Maryland supported the Intercounty Connector and the Purple Line, when a rational approach would pick one and not the other (depending on which approach one supports).

But now that we're past Peak Vehicle Miles Traveled and Peak Energy in the US (both were 2007) we need "transportation triage" to focus on what will be useful on the energy downslope.

by Mark on Apr 30, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

Are you familiar with those areas, Mark?

by selxic on Apr 30, 2013 6:18 pm • linkreport

I've seen the Charlotte light rail -- and the surrounding sprawl that it runs through.

Each of the last few Presidents has increased highway spending. Clinton increased spending over Bush I. Bush II increased highway spending over Clinton. Obama increased highway spending over Bush The Lesser.

I have been unable to find a single government in the US -- city, county, state, federal -- that has canceled a road project because of Peak Energy and Peak VMT. A few projects get scaled back because of insufficient funds and sometimes other reasons are used to cancel proposed porkways, but Peak Energy and VMT are still forbidden topics in the transportation world.

by Mark on Apr 30, 2013 6:23 pm • linkreport

Taking credit for building a 9-mile light rail, putting in a a streetcar and some bike lanes, promoting "density" qualifies this guy to be Secretary of Transportation?

That makes him qualified to oversee the nation's highways, airports, and seaports and who/what keeps them running?

There's more to the job than just being "good for cities".

And while everyone is doing their happy dance, let's keep in mind that Charlotte is building - one of the biggest urban freeway systems in the East. Then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

by ceefer66 on May 1, 2013 8:30 am • linkreport


There is ample evidence that urban freeway systems are destructive, and little evidence that building one of these is a "good thing." Your disbelief in this evidence, and preference to go with your gut is irrelevant here.

Just because states continue to do it, does not mean it is a "good thing"

by Kyle-w on May 1, 2013 9:34 am • linkreport

His promotion of the gentrification light rail is probably sufficient to get the foundation funded environmental groups to promote him, since a new yuppie rail line is more important for political imagery than Charlotte's growing freeway and tollway projects.

The "multimodal" meme was enough to get most of those groups to go along with massive highway funding expansions in the past few surface transportation laws.

Are there any environmental groups that call attention to the trillion dollar highway plans embedded in these laws (full cost of proposals if all are built)? Sure, they're probably not happy with NAFTA Superhighways, new bypasses, Outer Beltways, widenings, etc., but they're not objecting to politicians who promote them so long as a token light rail here or there is also promoted.

Smart Growth subsidizes developers in Democratic voting constituencies (Maryland's effort is a great example of this). It's not about making a fundamental shift as we enter the downslope of Hubbert's Curve. It failed to anticipate Peak VMT and Peak Energy. It would have been a nice idea in 1950.
Multiple Bypass Surgery: trillion dollar plans
A state by state list of highway plans and freeway fights

by Mark on May 1, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

"At the federal level, it's common for USDOT to delegate responsibilities and funding to state DOTs, under the assumption the states have a better understanding of local needs. But state DOTs aren't any more local than any huge centralized government. And since they usually focus on highways, the result is that federal dollars mostly go to highways as well."

This statement implies that USDOT has a choice in the matter, when in fact the agency operates at the behest of congressional legislation.

by David on May 1, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

US DOT is promoting the "Corridors of the Future" program, which is a scheme to prioritize funding for several new and expanded interstate highways. One is the notorious I-69, the best known NAFTA Superhighway. Another of these "Corridors" is expanding I-95 from Maine to Florida. I don't think this is a Congressional mandate, unlike the High Priority Corridors list. I-69 is part of the HPC list and parts of the 95 expansion are (but most of that is not).

US DOT and FHWA have the power to approve or reject federal aid highways, they are not local or state decisions. FHWA warned the State of Maryland back in 1997 that the Intercounty Connector would not meet "legal sufficiency" and that is why the highway was not approved then. Unfortunately, Maryland State Highway Admin. made a token change or two and then US DOT rubberstamped the approval, just in time for Peak Traffic and Peak Energy.

by Mark on May 1, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport


If you ever get a chance to visit Charlotte - or any other large US city - compare their traffic with ours.

I rest my case.

by ceefer66 on May 1, 2013 5:20 pm • linkreport

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