by Melissa Burke
Delaware News Journal
November 16, 2012
Like any state transportation secretary, Shailen Bhatt hears a lot of pleading. Would you put up a traffic light? Fix this pothole here? Build a wider ramp to there?
His agency can’t grant each wish – nor will it try to. Under Bhatt, DelDOT has stopped borrowing to pay for construction projects. It’s part of an effort to reign in soaring payments on past bond sales, which consume more than a third of the agency’s operating budget.
To prioritize DelDOT’s ever-expanding “wish list” of projects, Bhatt turns to the data, which weighs factors such as public safety, traffic volumes, congestion, projected growth and air quality. Bhatt says it helps keep the “doom and gloom” and politics out of the equation – something DelDOT hasn’t always done well in the past.
“That’s what we’re trying to get rid of,” Bhatt said after a hearing before Delaware’s budget director this week. “We have unlimited wants and limited resources. It’s how we reconcile those two.”
During the hearing, Bhatt told Delaware’s Office of Management and Budget he plans a flat budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2012, including a 2 percent decrease in his initial operating budget. Capital budget spending for highway construction and other expensive items would decline roughly 16 percent. (That figure excludes federal dollars for transportation projects.)
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