(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We couldn’t help but feel sorry for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood after he announced he was stepping down from his post once a successor is confirmed.

We imagined the Illinois Republican might be a bit forlorn in his post-Cabinet life, with no packed daily agenda or underlings in the hallways wishing him a “Good morning, Secretary!” He even told a blogger from his native Illinois that he hopes someone remembers him once he’s left office. (Cue the sound of sad trombones.)

“When I walk out of here, I hope the phone starts ringing with some opportunities for future endeavors,” he told Carol Felstenthal of Chicago magazine, who asked if he wanted to lobby. “I don’t have the slightest idea what opportunities are out there.”

Ah, but we do. Looks like the future could be quite rosy for LaHood. Overseeing the vast — and more importantly, monied — portfolio at DoT means that he’s perfectly positioned to pull down some big bucks.

If he wants to go the trade association route, he could be looking at a multi-million dollar salary. According to an analysis by CEO Update, which tracks associations and nonprofits, Airlines for America president Nick Calio earned more than $3.6 million in 2011, making him the highest paid head of a transportation organization.

Coming in second was Robert Somerville, the former CEO of the American Bureau of Shipping, who made more than $2.1 million in 2010. Million-plus compensation packages are found among the chiefs of the American Association of Railroads, the American Association of Airport Executives, the Air Lines Pilots Association, the American Trucking Associations, and the National Air Transportation Association.

LaHood would be attractive to the private sector for a few reasons: He’s a Republican who worked in a Democratic administration, meaning whichever way the wind blows in 2016, he’d fit in. And he’s got deep relationships in Congress from the 14 years he spent there.

Now, whether any of those plum association jobs would actually become available is another story. And there’s speculation that LaHood’s heart might not be in lobbying... but there are a couple million reasons it might not be so bad.