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December 18, 2008 3:45 PM, EST
Rep. Ray LaHood Is Obama’s Choice for DOT Secretary
Office of Rep. Ray LaHood

President-elect Barack Obama is set to name retiring Illinois Republican Rep. Ray LaHood as his transportation secretary, several news outlets reported.

Citing sources, Bloomberg News and other outlets reported late Wednesday that LaHood would be formally named by the end of the week.

LaHood’s district includes the Peoria, Ill., headquarters of diesel engine maker Caterpillar Inc., which recently made a decision to exit the heavy-duty truck engine market by 2010.

In 2002, the moderate Republican led an unsuccessful charge to get the Environmental Protection Agency to delay implementation of rules cutting emissions from diesel trucks.

LaHood, who did not seek re-election last month, has been known for his willingness to criticize his own party and to work with Democrats, Bloomberg said. He is a former member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and currently sits on the House Appropriations Committee.

In 2005, LaHood cited the importance of infrastructure spending, which has become a priority for Obama as he develops an economic stimulus plan, to the economy.

Calling the most recent highway bill “a much-needed boost to our economy from the federal government,” LaHood said the $268.4 billion spending package would “put people to work, increasing tax revenue to help address our state’s huge budget hole, and helping to move the economy of Illinois in the right direction.”

Rod Nofziger, director of government affairs for the Owner-Operator Indepedent Drivers Assocation called LaHood’s apparent nomination “a pleasant surprise.”

Speculation about the transportation post had rarely mentioned LaHood, instead focusing on Democrats like Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in San Francisco, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

Nofziger said that LaHood “has always been . . .  very much an advocate of infrastructure investment and from that standpoint it seems to be very, very good for transportation and trucking in general.

Jack Schenendorf, vice chairman of a national commission which studied the nation's infrastructure needs, said LaHood has “got a good grounding and background in transportation, I think he'll do very, very well.”

Schenendorf, an attorney with Covington & Burling LLP in Washington and a former staffer on the House transportation committee, said he got to know LaHood during his time on the committee.

“I was always very impressed with him as  a member that did his homework [and] learned the issues,” he said.

Tim Lynch, senior vice president of American Trucking Associations, said LaHood “has knowledge over a wide range of transportation modes and issues.”