By BILL MILLER
Associate professor and director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at Sangamon State University, he was a reporter for 25 years and received over 20 Associated Press News Awards and the national Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting.
Langhorne BondIllinois Secretary of Transportation Langhorne Bond administers the largest code department in the state and the largest highway program in the nation. He doubts that either Mike Hewlett or Jim Thompson would retain him In his present post
LANGHORNE BOND would much rather spend his time racing a sports car than sitting in the gallery of the Illinois House of Representatives sweating out legislative approval of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) budget. But that is where the transportation secretary usually finds himself during the waning hours of each legislative session. Those in the Illinois General Assembly who have life and death power over key bills normally hold the transportation budget bill hostage until the very last moment while legislators barter with Bond over money for highways in their districts.
In a wide ranging interview. Bond
conceded there is much "wheeling and
dealing" during those final hours. He also —
• doubts that Mike Hewlett or Jim Thompson would retain him in his present post.
• wants no part of the federal bureaucracy in Washington.
• thinks railroads in the state are heading for real trouble.
• agrees that public enthusiasm is dimming for building more supplemental freeways.
• thinks that the 55 mile per hour speed limit is unrealistic for Illinois highways.
Bond, 38, became secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation in March 1973, after serving as director of the National Transportation Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. Prior to that, he served for two years as undersecretary of commerce for transportation in the U.S. Department of Commerce, where he helped draft and push enactment of legislation establishing the U.S. Department of Transportation.
For his $42,000 annual salary, Bond administers the largest code department in Illinois government with an annual budget for fiscal year 1976 of $2.5 billion. Many of the nearly 8,000 employees are housed in a $12 million building southeast of Springfield, described as an "architect's dream," with an adjoining fish-stocked lake, shaped in the form of the State of Illinois.
As president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Bond is the national spokesman for counterparts from other states. The Washington Monthly, in a recent article listing "State Government All-Stars," cited Bond as the "all-star" among state transportation commissioners. Noting that Bond runs the largest highway program in the country, the magazine said, "Anyone with that kind of power in that state must know how to play. politics, and Bond does. One of Bond's strengths is his understanding of federal programs."
Bond says Gov. Dan Walker has not interfered in his administration of the transportation department. "I have a debt to Gov. Walker and I acknowledge it for his tolerance of letting us do what is right out here," he said. Bond also praised the General Assembly for "not having interfered with us either."
The following interview was made in Bond's office on April 28:
Q: What sort of roadblocks has the
federal government thrown up to hamper road construction in Illinois?
A: Some of the problems we deal with affect highway construction and also any other public works project we may undertake, such as airports, waterways, railroads, and mass transit, to some extent. One of them is lack of funding. We don't have enough money for what we think are the appropriate needs of the State of Illinois, even given the size of the Illinois highway program, which is the largest in the country. We're still short. Now, for example, the federal Environmental
September 1976 / Illinois Issues / 11
'I just don't see . . . how
our railroads can continue
to operate for many, many
more years in a solvent way
under private enterprise'
Protection Act, with which I
have no basic quarrel, gives an enormous lead time to construction projects.
One of my concerns is that the various
federal enactments — guidelines, regulations, and so on — apply to projects of
major scope, which I would fully agree
do have significant environmental
impact. Apparently the federal rules will
also apply to lesser projects which I
think do not have a significant impact
on the environment. But, everything is
delayed. A second corollary on that is that I
think the "feds" tend to "over-proceduralize" almost everything. The guidelines that are published by various
agencies seem to me to go beyond what I
would call a tough-minded, limited
construction of the federal statute. For
example, the environmental impact
statements that we have to write for a
major project (and many minor projects) have to be reviewed in Washington
by, I am told, more than 100 agencies
and bureaus. None of the people who
look at them have seen the project
eyeball-to-eyeball. It is the nature of the
bureaucracy to think of something to
write down — a comment, a complaint,
a little change — and when you put them
all together in a package, you wonder
what the purpose of it all is. People are
protecting their own little claim to
existence by writing comments on all
these things. I really think the way the
system works now, in relation to
Washington, is anti-democratic. It is not
congruent with what I think the framers
of the U.S. Constitution had in mind.
Protection Act, with which I have no basic quarrel, gives an enormous lead time to construction projects. One of my concerns is that the various federal enactments — guidelines, regulations, and so on — apply to projects of major scope, which I would fully agree do have significant environmental impact. Apparently the federal rules will also apply to lesser projects which I think do not have a significant impact on the environment. But, everything is delayed.
A second corollary on that is that I think the "feds" tend to "over-proceduralize" almost everything. The guidelines that are published by various agencies seem to me to go beyond what I would call a tough-minded, limited construction of the federal statute. For example, the environmental impact statements that we have to write for a major project (and many minor projects) have to be reviewed in Washington by, I am told, more than 100 agencies and bureaus. None of the people who look at them have seen the project eyeball-to-eyeball. It is the nature of the bureaucracy to think of something to write down — a comment, a complaint, a little change — and when you put them all together in a package, you wonder what the purpose of it all is. People are protecting their own little claim to existence by writing comments on all these things. I really think the way the system works now, in relation to Washington, is anti-democratic. It is not congruent with what I think the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind.
Q: If you wanted to build a highway in
Illinois, say through a rural area, how
long would it take to get it under
A: There's no ironclad rule on it. The average is from seven and one-half to ten years from the time you start planning a project until the time you can award a contract. But, that's the average period. If there's a lawsuit and you get tied up in court, if you have to go back and do it all over again, it takes even longer.
Q: When the supplemental freeway system was adopted back in the mid-1960's, it was supposedly designed to allow any Illinois resident to travel no more than 30 miles to reach convenient highway to drive to any city with a population over 25,000. How close are we to that goal and when will we reach it?
A: We're a long way from it, and furthermore, the realities of cost and financing have intruded on the original supplemental freeway plan. The Transportation Study Commission, which originally created the supplemental freeway program, is taking a hard second look at it. They know there isn't enough money, and also public opinion is far from unanimous today in thinking that a freeway is such a good idea. The environmental problems are obvious. There's a hard economic argument about taking farmland, which is worth an enormous amount of money today and which will be supplying the world food for years to come. So, all these problems have caused people to look again at the supplemental freeway program.
Q: Including Langhorne Bond?
A: Yes, of course, as well as the [Transportation] Study Commission and the General Assembly. There are a good many members of the General Assembly who are opposed to building supplemental freeways in their districts, and there are some who are in favor of them. Opinion is now divided. But, 10 years ago when this was all brought up, there was unanimity that it was a good idea. That is certainly not true now.
Q: Gas tax revenues are not increasing substantially because of the increased use of smaller, high-gas-mileage
cars. Do you have any figures on this
and how it will affect road building in
A: It can't be good. The trends are nothing like the optimistic predictions of growth of 10 years ago. However, we had only a slight decline during the peak of the energy crisis. Now we are back on the uptake, at about half the rate of growth that we had before. Maybe two per cent or so is our growth rate now; we were two or three times that some years ago. I notice somewhat to my dismay that there is an increasing tendency to buy larger automobiles, instead of going to more fuel-economical vehicles, and I personally would like to see a continuation of the improvements in the road system but a reduction in gas mileage in cars. I think this is a good step for the country to take even if it erodes our revenues.
55 m.p.h. speed limit
Q: Do you feel, in view of our modern highway system, that a 55 mile per hour speed limit is realistic in Illinois?
A: My personal view is that I don't like it very much. I speak as an employee in a state that has a lot of flat, straight roads. I think that what is appropriate for the states of New York or New Hampshire or some other eastern state with shorter distances to travel is very questionable for us out here where the land is flat and where the distances are long. I have personally had great reservations about claims to safety made for the 55 mile per hour speed limit on the interstate system, but there is no denying the fact that it does save fuel. You know, we spent an awful lot of money in Illinois on the freeway plan and propose to spend a lot more to enable people to travel at 70 or more miles per hour. If we are restricted to 55 miles per hour and you can go that fast on an existing two-lane road with little delay — then all of our calculations about consumer benefits, time saving, and so on, are ruined, and we have probably over-invested an enormous amount of money in high-design roads. The roads were designed for more than 70 miles per hour. You could travel 80 or 90 miles per hour and still have geometric soundness. That is also something the [Transportation] Study Commission is going to have to think about when they consider further freeway construction.
12 / September 1976 / Illinois Issues
Q: Some critics question whether the
public really favors spending all the
money we do on mass transit systems. What are your views?
Q: Illinois is considered the second
largest railroad state in the country.
What do you see happening to railroads
in the state?
A: Public transportation is vital to Illinois and to other states. 1 think it is as much a need in an urban area as a good road system is in a rural area, because that is the only way people can get around, especially at peak hours and if a family is not rich enough to own several automobiles. But the cost is going up at a greater rate than anyone anticipated. The RTA [Regional Transportation Authority] problem in Chicago, for example, is vexatious. Really, it is a wage matter. Eighty to 85 per cent of the cost of any given transit system in any city of the United States is for labor, and wages have certainly gone up at a rate faster than anyone anticipated. Nationwide, I feel there is some resistance to an unchecked increase in the cost of operating transit systems, which is to say, to the cost of labor settlements.
A: The long-run outlook for railroads in Illinois, under the present free enterprise system is very cloudy — even negative. In the eastern states the Penn Central system was the first to collapse, and this had some impact on Illinois because we are at the very western edge of the Penn Central system. There are other railroads in Illinois that are on equally shaky financial ground. My personal view is that it is only a matter of time before some crisis hits them. At least three roads in Illinois — the Northwestern, the Milwaukee Road and Illinois Central Gulf — suffered heavy losses during the first quarter of calendar year 1975 when the economy was down, automobile shipments were down and operating costs were up. I just don't see, given the problems the railroad industry has in general, how our railroads can continue to operate for many, many more years in a solvent way under private enterprise. The Congress has got to do something to solve the problem. The state government can hardly do anything. It is a national problem.
Q: Illinois is considered the second largest railroad state in the country. What do you see happening to railroads in the state?
Q: Do you relish sitting up in the
gallery of the Illinois House or Senate in
the 11th hour of legislative sessions
sweating out approval of the Transportation Department budget?
A: There are a lot of other things I'd rather do than sit over there and wonder how it's going to go, but I'm not made of porcelain china, and if I didn't want to do that sort of thing, I'd do something else in life.
Q: That's the time for wheeling and
dealing, isn't it? Some lawmakers want
to get certain things out of you. Do you engage in that?
A: Of course. How would you deal with the General Assembly otherwise? Members are both advocates for their districts and for Illinois, and as a general rule, they are not obligated to love appointed bureaucrats like myself. But, they have their right not to love appointed bureaucrats, and they have every right to question me on what I do.
Q: If Jim Thompson or Mike Howlett, when elected, asked you to stay on, would you?
A: 1 don't know who is going to be the next governor, and I don't know what their intentions are. But, I think there is every reason to think either one of those men would want to appoint his own secretary of transportation and other heads of cabinet agencies as well. That is the democratic way. They are entitled to that.
Q: Assuming you are not reappointed, what is in the future for Langhorne Bond?
September 1976 / Illinois Issues / 13
A: I don't know what the next step is. I haven't given it a great deal of specific thought because there is a lot of time left here, and I have no intention of leaving early. In general, I have never done anything that has been more rewarding than working in state government. I used to work in the federal government, so I have seen both. We in state government are far more flexible than the "feds" are. We can make decisions and they are carried out. The problem with the federal government, in my judgment, is not so much precipitous and high-handed action as the inability to take any action. Everything is tied up for interminable lengths. Local and state government is flexible, more politically astute, and I mean that in a complimentary way. It is more attuned to the people's wishes. I personally would prefer to do something like that again because it is such fun and so fulfilling. Going back to Washington holds no great attraction for me.
September 1976 / Illinois Issues / 13