Bhatt Confirmed to Lead Federal Highway Administration

Shailen Bhatt
Shailen Bhatt becomes the first person of Indian descent to lead the Federal Highway Administration. (Drew Angerer/Bloomberg News)

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Shailen Bhatt was confirmed as the 21st administrator of the Federal Highway Administration by the U.S. Senate, the Department of Transportation announced Dec. 8.

Bhatt, the first administrator of Indian descent, will be responsible for managing an agency currently disbursing funds approved in the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced Bhatt's nomination to the floor of the chamber Nov. 29.

"Mr. Bhatt brings with him an almost perfect résumé for this position,” EPW Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said at the time.

The bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last year provides more than $500 billion for transportation-centric projects. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s team is communicating updates about the distribution of funds. At a hearing before the EPW committee this year, Bhatt pointed to the need for dedicating additional safety resources for the nation’s mobility corridors.

“There are many challenges we face as a nation with our transportation system,” Bhatt told senators, referencing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data estimating nearly 43,000 traffic fatalities in 2021. That figure marked a 10.5% increase from last year.

One day earlier, the Senate Commerce Committee on Dec. 7 approved President Joe Biden’s nominees to serve in transportation agencies during his administration.

This included Robert Primus’ nomination for a reappointment on the Surface Transportation Board, which was easily approved. Currently serving as a board member, his reappointment would run through 2027.

Robert Primus


The chamber’s Democratic leadership, which manages the floor schedule, has yet to consider his nomination in the post-election lame duck session.

Responding to a questionnaire the committee issues to nominees, Primus expressed a commitment to providing a careful review of industry affairs while in his post on the board.

“The board must continue its efforts to address issues related to passenger rail, including the potential growth of passenger service across the national rail network,” the nominee wrote senators this fall.

“The promise of improved and expanded passenger rail service is of great importance to efforts underway to enhance our nation’s mobility. In response to the new rules related to Amtrak’s on-time performance, the board is in the process of setting up a new passenger rail office. Additionally,” he continued, “I have been working with my fellow board members on a number of critically important passenger rail-related issues, including Amtrak’s desire to expand its service in places such as the Gulf Coast region.”

Resolving service and rate disputes across the freight rail industry is among the tasks of the five-member governing board.

Maria Cantwell


Prior to the vote, Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) spoke favorably of the nominee. “The Surface Transportation Board provides a critical role in overseeing the freight rail industry, which is currently struggling with ongoing nationwide service issues, and Mr. Primus has held the industry to account,” the chairwoman observed.

She further emphasized in a separate part of her statement, “I am supporting Mr. Primus because I am confident he will continue to work to ensure the United States has a rail network that is able to efficiently move our nation’s goods.”

In addition to Primus, the committee approved nominees to a board overseeing Amtrak’s affairs.

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