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UPDATE 1-Biden to nominate former state official to run U.S. highway agency

·2 min read

(Updates with confirmation, Buttigieg comment)

By David Shepardson

July 21 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden plans to nominate a former state transportation official to head the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as the agency oversees a massive jump in spending, the White House said on Thursday.

Biden will nominate Shailen Bhatt, who is a senior vice president at engineering firm AECOM and was previously an official at both the Colorado and Delaware state transportation departments. Reuters first reported the planned nomination based on sourcing from a White House official.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Bhatt's "deep experience delivering innovative transportation across the country will serve the department and the American people well."

A $1 trillion infrastructure law approved by Congress in November provides an additional $110 billion in surface transportation funding to repair roads and bridges as the United States faces a major repair backlog. The White House says 1 in 5 miles of highways and major roads, and 45,000 bridges, are in poor condition.

The infrastructure legislation distributes 90% of federal-aid highway funding to states via a formula.

Earlier this month, FHWA proposed requiring state transportation agencies to set new targets for reducing tailpipe emissions on the national highway system.

States would also be required to report on their progress in meeting the targets under the proposed rule. Currently, state laws require 24 states to set targets and track greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation sector accounts for the largest source of U.S. emissions.

The Sierra Club, an environmental group, praised the proposal: "States must be held accountable for their transportation plans and effectively leverage existing funding, including from (the $1 trillion infrastructure law) for sustainable projects."

Some climate activists want the Biden administration to slow or halt expansion of highways, arguing that more highways and capacity will boost vehicle use - and instead do more to boost the use of buses, trains and other mass transit.

FHWA is also currently reviewing a long-planned congestion pricing plan for New York City designed to reduce traffic in Manhattan and provide funding to improve mass transit. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said last month the Biden administration is seeking changes that could further delay implementation. (Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Frances Kerry and Marguerita Choy)