Charlotte mayor approved to lead Department of Transportation

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WASHINGTON — The Senate unanimously confirmed Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx on Thursday as the next U.S. transportation secretary.

Virtually all nominees for the post have been overwhelmingly approved.

Foxx, who's 42, immediately will confront safety and funding challenges in a large department that oversees the nation's highway, transit, aviation and rail networks.

Skeptics have questioned whether he brings enough heft to the job. But supporters admire his push for improvements to Charlotte's airport, highways and transit systems. Others like his experience working with the federal government on the local level.

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said in a floor speech Thursday that Foxx was well prepared to lead the Transportation Department. "I have the utmost confidence he will serve in this role with great distinction," she said.

Foxx already has connections on Capitol Hill from his days as a congressional staffer. But he'll have a tough act to follow in Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois who has served in President Barack Obama's Cabinet for more than four years.

LaHood, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1994, leveraged his strong ties with lawmakers at the department. He managed tens of billions of dollars in spending on infrastructure improvements, from bike paths to highway interchanges, as part of Obama's 2009 economic stimulus program.

LaHood, who gave his farewell remarks Thursday at the National Press Club, called the current state of roads, bridges and highways in America "one big pothole."

Many in transportation policy circles wanted him to stay. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said LaHood would be ranked as one of the top transportation secretaries ever. But Blumenauer, a leading proponent of transit, also said he looked forward to working with Foxx.

"He understands the challenges," Blumenauer said. "I think he will be a solid partner."

Foxx will have a chance to make his mark. The department faces an immediate problem in finding a sustainable funding stream for badly needed improvements to roads, bridges and transit systems. It also has struggled to replace the radar-based air traffic-control system, which dates to the 1950s, with a modern, satellite-based system.