Bhatt stepping into a very difficult role with DelDOT

Tuesday, July 5, 2011, will probably forever be etched in the mind of Shailen Bhatt. That is the day Gov. Jack Markell formally swore in Bhatt to serve as the new secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).

This is one of those “good news, bad news” scenarios.

The good news for Bhatt is that he is now in charge of the state’s roads. The bad news for Bhatt is that this is largely a position that sits straight in the crosshairs of nearly everybody in Delaware.

“We have in Shailen Bhatt someone with a solid background in transportation at the local, state and federal level,” said Markell. “I expect Shailen will look at our transporation needs, priorities and fiscal realities squarely in the eye and work with lawmakers, community groups, employees and stakeholders at all levels to figure out where we need to go and how we can get there while ensuring accountability and transparency in DelDOT’s operations and projects.”

It all sounds good, right?

Bhatt previously worked for the Federal Highways Administration and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. He is obviously qualified, and one can assume he badly wants this job because, well, he took it.

But this is no position of pleasure.

Approve a project in the Wilmington area and the folks in Sussex County go up in arms that the southern part of the state is constantly ignored, while the people in Wilmington complain about all the roadwork. Vice versa for projects down here.

Plus, there have been more than a few allegations of improprieties pointed at DelDOT over the past several years, and while Bhatt was not even working for the state during that time, his department will be looked at with scrutiny from the general public.

In our minds, this might be the toughest job in the state.

We are impressed by the appointment of Bhatt to this position. He appears to have enthusiasm for the position, judging by his public comments after assuming the position. And his background suggests that this is a person who understands transportation issues and should be a huge asset for the state.

But, as we said, this is a tough job. He will have every decision questioned, and it will take a lot of good will on his department’s side to get the public behind him and trusting of DelDOT. But if anybody can do it, he appears qualified.