Shailen Bhatt Pushed Innovation, Greater Safety
These days more than ever, it’s clear how much difference an elected — or appointed — government official can make.
Colorado residents need not visit Washington D.C. to see just how much. Take a look at Shailen Bhatt, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, who recently announced he will resign in December.
Appointed in February 2015 by Gov. John Hickenlooper, Bhatt has transformed Colorado’s department for roads, bridges, and other transportation.
The Denver Post described Bhatt’s leadership as “defined by a fierce advocacy for more road money and transportation innovation.” The underlying theme has been increased safety for Colorado residents and the quixotic goal of zero road deaths by 2030.
The ambition seems more apt and necessary as auto accidents in Colorado jumped by more than 24 percent, from 488 lives in 2014 to 608 in 2016.
Bhatt, who is departing at the end of Hickenlooper’s second term, might have sought reappointment by the term-limited governor’s replacement but instead is taking over the executive role at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. The job meshes neatly with the theme of his Colorado term. He led a series of groundbreaking projects that may lead the state into the forefront of modern transportation.
A Pioneering Transportation Department
The Post cited his work to bring what could be the first Hyperloop system to Colorado. The fantastical passenger shuttle, championed by electric car and rocket pioneer Elon Musk, would send pods of passengers shooting through a tube at hundreds of miles an hour with zero chance of crashing. Although it’s considered by some to be merely an expensive pipedream, the chance to travel from Denver to Greeley or Colorado Springs in less than 10 minutes makes it an irresistible goal.
Bhatt forged a link with OTTO, a transportation development firm owned by the ride-sharing giant Uber, to test a robotic truck on Colorado highways. The driverless delivery truck carried a load of Budweiser beer from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs in October 2016. More than beer, though, it advanced development of smart vehicle technology that Bhatt and others hope will dramatically reduce highway deaths. The “first” will be marked in Guinness World Records.
Bhatt’s CDOT bought and put into service what it says is the first regular-duty driverless truck, which will loiter behind road construction workers as protection from auto accidents. He also persuaded state lawmakers to pass a law allowing developers to test more robotic vehicles on Colorado roads and highways.
Bhatt also developed a partnership between his agency and electronics giant Panasonic to equip 90 miles of I-70 with the wiring for “connected vehicles” and self-driving cars. He led CDOT’s addition of express lanes on I-70, U.S. 36, and I-25 and programs to improve I-25 from Castle Rock to Monument and Fort Collins to Johnstown.
“It has been a privilege to drive Colorado’s and Gov. Hickenlooper’s transportation vision for the past three years. A DOT exists to save lives and make people’s lives better. It has been an honor to work with the CDOT team and the very many stakeholders whose dedication to live up to that sacred charge is shown every single day on behalf of the people of Colorado.”