Courtesy of U.S. DOT

Ray LaHood, who has led the U.S.  Dept. of Transportation since January 2009, has announced he is leaving his post as DOT Secretary after a successor is named and confirmed. 

LaHood, who announced his decision on Jan. 29 in a message to DOT employees, did not say what he plans to do after he leaves the department.

Speculation about whether LaHood, 67, would leave the Cabinet has been circulating for weeks—along with rumors about possible successors.

Among the possible candidates mentioned in the rumor mill are: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), former U.S. Senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) and ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell (D).

Most of President Obama’s second-term nominees for Cabinet slots or other senior posts so far have been white males, which has sparked criticism about a lack of diversity. Observers say diversity is likely to be a factor in the president’s future Cabinet selections.

Obama has slots to fill in the top jobs at the Labor and Interior Depts., the Environmental Protection Agency—and now at Transportation.

Construction industry officials say that during his tenure as secretary, LaHood has raised the profile and standing of DOT. Cathy Connor, Parsons Brinckerhoff senior vice president and manager of federal government affairs, says, “He has taken on issues such as distracted driving, safety—issues that have been very high-profile and productive.”

Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors highway and transportation division, says, “He talked about transportation a lot. It was included in the president’s State of the Union address. It was emphasized in his stimulus packages. Even [in] the fiscal cliff discussions, it bubbled up again as a subject that ought to be addressed with some additional funding.”

Deery added that the term “infrastructure” became more commonly used in political debate. “You heard it a lot. And I give him credit for that, I really do.”

A hallmark of LaHood’s tenure at DOT has been his vociferous campaign to reduce use of cell phones and texting while driving. He also has been a cheerleader for Obama’s plan to expand high-speed passenger rail service around the country. Deery notes that LaHood also has been a strong advocate for bicycling and “livable communities.”