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October 2008

John F. Foran Legislative Award: Congressman Tom Lantos

Congressman Tom Lantos
(Photo: Michael Maloney, SF Chronicle)

The influence of the late Congressman Tom Lantos spread far beyond the 12th Congressional District on the San Francisco Peninsula, which he represented from 1981 until his death in February 2008. The only survivor of the Holocaust to be elected to Congress, Lantos served as chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, championing human rights and democracy around the globe.

Lantos also was a tireless advocate for Bay Area transportation, securing millions of dollars in federal funds for Bay Area projects. Two vitally important projects — the Devil’s Slide tunnel on Highway 1 and the BART extension to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) — testify to his unwavering commit- ment to improving transportation options for people in the Bay Area.

Lantos campaigned early in his career for federal emergency funds to repair the precipitous stretch of Highway 1 on the San Mateo coast known as Devil’s Slide after winter storms closed the highway for months. In 1983, he secured $58 million for the repairs, but the money was put on hold while the project awaited approval. Years passed while factions argued over the options: building a new highway bypass in an environmentally sensitive area versus tunneling through the coastal mountain. While the debates and lawsuits raged, Lantos and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein worked steadily to earmark additional money for Devil’s Slide in every federal transportation bill. Finally, the highway versus tunnel debate was settled, and the U.S. Department of Transportation allocated emergency repair funds to finance a $270 million tunnel.

At the tunnel groundbreaking, Lantos quipped, “I was in knee pants when I introduced this legislation. I learned to be patient.” Scheduled for completion in 2011 and named for its steadfast supporter, the Tom Lantos Tunnel will consist of two 4,000-foot bores extending between Pacifica and Montara, and the abandoned roadway will become a shoreline trail with breathtaking views of the Pacific coast.

Extending BART to SFO also was a long-term vision that some doubted could be accomplished. Lantos never lost sight of the vision, however, and fought persistently to ensure the federal government honored its pledge of $750 million — half of the total cost — for the project.

On a preview test ride of BART to SFO in July 2002, Lantos commented, “This is truly a profound addition to the quality of our lives.” Now, MTC is recognizing Lantos’ many contributions to the quality of life in the Bay Area with this year’s John F. Foran Legislative Award.

— Marjorie Blackwell

See VIDEO: Congressman Tom Lantos