Anthony Foxx, the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and a political ally of President Barack Obama, was unanimously confirmed by the Senate Thursday to be transportation secretary.
The Senate voted 100-0 in favor of Foxx.
As secretary, the 42-year-old Foxx will oversee the agencies within the department that regulate the nation’s aviation, rail, transit and highway systems, as well as auto safety. He replaces outgoing secretary Ray LaHood, who campaigned against distracted driving and led the Obama administration’s efforts to boost the economy by improving the nation’s transportation.
The mayor won national recognition when Charlotte hosted the Democratic National Convention last year. Foxx calls Obama a friend and was a key surrogate in North Carolina for the president during his re-election bid last fall.
As mayor, Foxx has pushed for expanded use of streetcars and a light rail extension, helped build a new runway at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and helped create a new regional freight distribution center that will link planes, trains and trucks to East Coast ports. He has also unveiled a pilot program for electric vehicle charging stations.
“Anthony knows firsthand that investing in our roads, bridges and transit systems is vital to creating good jobs and ensuring American businesses can grow and compete in a 21st century global economy,” Obama said in a statement.
Foxx takes over the department in an era of constraint as federal agencies are grappling with across-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to ratchet up next year. At the same time, years of pushing off expensive repairs and improvements to roads, airports, air traffic control systems, rails and ports have left the nation with an overstrained transportation system. The gas and diesel taxes that pay for federal highway and transit aid to states haven’t been raised since 1993. Inflation and increases in the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks have reduced revenues and threaten to bankrupt the federal Highway Trust Fund.
There are other challenges as well. The government is in the middle of replacing the nation’s air traffic control system, which is based on World War II-era radar technology, with a system based on satellite technology. The safe integration of civilian unmanned aircraft into the same skies now limited to airliners, business jets, and other manned aircraft is also complex and technologically difficult.
Regulators are also studying an array of new automotive technologies that hold the promise of dramatically reducing highway deaths. At the same time, they’re trying to prevent what some safety experts call a looming distracted driving crisis as drivers increasingly seek to remain connected behind the wheel.
Safety will be his top priority, Foxx told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at a nomination hearing a month ago. Since then, a major highway bridge partially collapsed in Washington state, two freight trains collided in Missouri, another freight train derailed and caught fire in Maryland and two commuter trains crashed in Connecticut.
His other priorities, Foxx said, will be improving the efficiency and performance of the existing transportation system, and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure “to meet the needs of the next generation of Americans.”
Foxx isn’t new to Washington. His background includes stints as a Justice Department attorney and a Democratic aide to the House Judiciary Committee.