Featured Stories

Bhatt testifies in FHWA oversight hearing

Committee on Environment & Public Works Chairman
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)

On June 5, Federal Highway (FHWA) Administrator Shailen Bhatt testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works during a hearing on FHWA budget and oversight.

Senators on the committee, which is chaired by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), asked Bhatt a range of questions during the two-hour hearing.

Chairman Carper asked Bhatt about the progress of naming members to an advisory board charged with undertaking a study of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) user fees as an alternative funding source for the Highway Trust Fund.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to create an advisory board on funding alternatives for the Highway Trust Fund and undertake a national study of vehicle miles traveled user fees. The goal of that work is to produce meaningful data that would provide timely input as Congress considers future revenue sources for the Highway Trust Fund,” Carper said. “Nominations for the federal systems funding alternative advisory board were due to the Department of Transportation by Oct. 3 of last year. It’s now been almost eight months since those nominations were submitted, yet the secretary has not named any members to the advisory board. What is the timeline for naming members to the advisory board so it can begin the work of getting a national study underway?”

FHWA Administrator Shailen Bhatt

Bhatt said the DOT is evaluating the nominations and should have an update in the near future.

“I am pleased to report that we have pushed forward the committee recommendations up to the office of the secretary and they’re being evaluated now,” Bhatt said. “Hopefully in the very short term we’ll be able to get that pushed out.”

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) spent a portion of his allotted time discussing the importance of formula funding with Bhatt.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.)

“It was my highest priority in the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Cramer said. “I was grateful for the 90-10 funding formula. I’ve been hearing that on the grant side, the discretionary side, the money has not been going out very fast. In fact, it could even be manipulating it or confusing the formula a little bit. I want you to either verify or deny that that’s the case. And just maybe advocate for moving more money out of discretionary into formula if in fact there’s a problem because one thing about the states: They get their money out really fast.”

Bhatt said there was building momentum in moving money out of the discretionary fund, noting that of 2,250 discretionary grant agreements, about 50 percent have been signed.

“We want to turn all of these projects into successful ribbon cuttings,” Bhatt said.

There was also discussion on construction inflation, a topic that has been top of mind for infrastructure companies across the country.

Ranking Member Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) asked Bhatt about implementation of the “One Federal Decision” permitting provisions.

“I touted it [One Federal Decision] when we passed the bill [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] as being such a great aspect in terms of permitting. And when you were here, we were provided with information in March regarding the use of One Federal Decision provision for major projects and you had eight that were using that provision at the time,” Capito said. “We’re trying to shorten the time here and it seems like we’re not really achieving the goal. So, what kind of accountability, because you’re supposed to be the coordinating for all the other agencies, Fish and Wildlife and others that are involved in this permitting for major projects. What kind of accountability do the other agencies have to you when you’re trying to achieve this One Federal Decision? And what’s your opinion of whether One Federal Decision actually works? Because as a state administrator, you would have welcomed this news to say this is going to be great and I’m sure you think it is great, but is it really working?”

Bhatt said accelerating project delivery has been a goal of his since he was working at the state level. Bhatt has held positions at the Kentucky, Delaware, and Colorado departments of transportation.

“Yes, when I sat on the state DOT side I welcomed any and all opportunities to accelerate project delivery,” Bhatt said. “I would say that I feel that we are making progress on trying to hit timelines.”

Bhatt said FHWA works with other agencies on the permitting process.

Related Articles

Back to top button