By Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON, April 28 (Reuters) – President Barack Obama plans on Monday to nominate Charlotte, North Carolina, Mayor Anthony Foxx to be his next transportation secretary, a White House official said on Sunday.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Foxx would replace Ray LaHood, who has served as transportation secretary since January 2009.
“Foxx’s career as a public official, in a rapidly changing urban environment, has been marked by an ability to integrate local, state and federal resources to meet important transportation challenges,” the White House official said.
The next transportation secretary must secure funding for pressing highway, bridge and other infrastructure projects at a time of tight federal budgets and resistance in Congress to raising taxes.
Foxx is African-American and would make Obama Cabinet’s more diverse, something the president’s supporters have been urging him to do. Foxx will be 42 on Tuesday.
As Charlotte mayor, Foxx is credited with improving the city’s transportation system with streetcar and light rail as well as airport and cargo terminal improvements.
North Carolina has been an important swing state in presidential elections. While it voted for Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, it backed Obama in 2008. It also hosted the most recent Democratic National Convention.
The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration has been under scrutiny lately following travel delays at the nation’s airports.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman, warned that the indiscriminate nature of across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration could result in temporary layoffs for FAA workers and disrupt air travel. Because of the nature of the cuts, the agency would have little flexibility in avoiding delays, he said.
When air travel problems surfaced last week, Congress swiftly passed a measure allowing the FAA to redistribute its required cuts to reduce disruptions to air travel.
The FAA is also in the midst of implementing a new satellite-based national airspace system, called NextGen.
As secretary, Foxx would have to shepherd a highway bill through Congress by June 2014.
In a recent report, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s roads, bridges and waterways and other transportation sectors an overall grade of D+ and estimated repairs would cost $3.6 trillion by 2020.
“It is clear that we have a significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems,” the trade group said.
The transportation secretary also will play a role in Obama’s dream of expanding high-speed rail to take some of the pressure off clogged highways. Shortly after taking office, the president set a goal for 80 percent of Americans to have access to high-speed rail with the next 25 years. (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer, Steve Holland, Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Mohammad Zargham)
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