VCU Student Government Association hosted the State of the Union Town Hall event with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood Wednesday afternoon after President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union Address Tuesday night.
LaHood fielded questions from students ranging from America’s war on drugs to the definition of the American Dream, but focused on the progress of Americas’ transportation systems.
LaHood met with Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones and other state transportation officials to review current construction projects on I-95 before coming to VCU.
“Since we were here, we wanted to meet with the students and talk about the president’s vision for transportation but also kind of see what’s on their minds,” LaHood said.
“One thing we’ve tried to promote at the Department of Transportation during this administration is getting college students involved as interns (or in) career-type programs,” he said.
According to LaHood, although the U.S. Department of Transportation typically works with states, universities like VCU can also be helpful in bettering the nation’s infrastructure.
The Department of Transportation recently granted $77 million in grants to 22 university transportation programs to help fund studies that would address critical transportation issues.
“We really think that a lot of the thoughtfulness and a lot of the creativity is at the universities,” LaHood said. “We’ve really gotten more universities to collaborate with one another so that we can spread the money around a little but more.”
Virginia Tech was the only school in the state to receive money from the grant, but LaHood said it wasn’t too late for a school like VCU to get involved with the Department of Transportation’s efforts.
“(Universities need) to be able to come to Department of Transportation and reach out to us for a research grant,” he said. “That’s an added advantage for the students.”
The grant will fund studies that will focus on topics like rail corridors, bridge inspection methods and ways to reduce roadway fatalities and injuries.
“Safety runs across everything we do at the Department of Transportation,” LaHood said. “Hundreds of people got up and got in their car or got in the motor-coach or got on a plane and didn’t think much about safety so we really take our safety agenda as one that is our top priority.”
SGA president Asif Bhavnagri said there was about a week to prepare for the event, but he said he was pleased with the outcome.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for all the students that came,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, (and) the questions really showed the character of VCU.”