Delaware Senate confirms new transportation leader

Once people figured out he was nominated to be Delaware’s new Secretary of Transportation, Shailen Bhatt started getting a lot of requests.

“They were like, ‘can you take care of this pothole? Can you take care of whatever?” he said.

Bhatt will now have the chance to honor those demands, and much more, after he was confirmed by the Delaware Senate Wednesday following about an hour of testimony before the Senate Executive Committee.

The 35-year-old Federal Highway Administration official says it’s a great opportunity to move the Delaware Department of Transportation forward.

“I really look forward to getting in and getting a chance to talk to the employees, getting a chance to talk to the users of transportation in Delaware to find out what we’re doing well, what we can do better and what everyone’s goals are for transportation here in Delaware.”

Bhatt, nominated last month by Gov. Jack Markell, replaces Carolann Wicks, who resigned in February after the agency came under fire for questionable land deals and other issues. They include the deal involving DelDOT and N.K.S. Distributors near Route 1 in Milford; construction delays and design problems with the Indian River Inlet Bridge; and the Route 113 by-pass project in Sussex County, which led to an investigation by the Markell administration.

Bhatt knows he will have to regain the public’s trust.

“Credibility is something that takes a long time to build,” he said. “And you can lose it in an instant.”

Bhatt says he will bring a TEAM approach, both a philosophy and an acronym.

“It means we’ll be transparent in our decision making, we’ll be ethical and efficient, we’ll be accountable and we’ll measure our performance so that we know that the investments that we are making are going towards the goals that we have set.”

When he nominated Bhatt, Markell said it was important to bring in someone from outside of the agency. Wednesday he thanked the Delaware Senate and the Executive Committee for their confidence in Bhatt.

“Transportation plays a part in the lives of all Delawareans, and DelDOT plays an important role in the vitality of our state,” Markell said. “Shailen understands the opportunities that await him – and he has the experience, intelligence, energy and integrity to move DelDOT forward.”

Bhatt currently serves as Associate Administrator at the Federal Highway Administration. Through the Federal Aid Highway Program, the FHWA supports state and local governments in the design, construction, and maintenance of the nation’s highway system. 

For the last two years, Bhatt has been responsible for setting policy and managing relationships with members of Congress and has been leading FHWA’s efforts in re-authorizing the nation’s surface transportation legislation.  

Before joining FHWA, Bhatt served as a Deputy Executive Director with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Bhatt says he will transition into his new role in the next few weeks. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal