Five new transportation players to watch in 2015

Greg Nash

Change is in the air on Capitol Hill as Republicans take control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006, resulting in a host of changes to the key players on transportation issues. 

The follow is a list of new players to watch as lawmakers get the ball rolling on the 114th Congress, which is expected to include debates about highway, aviation and rail funding. 

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1) Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneFive takeaways from the new driverless car guidelines Overnight Tech: Pressure builds ahead of TV box vote | Intel Dems warn about Russian election hacks | Spending bill doesn't include internet measure Sen. Thune slams Dems for protecting Internet transition MORE (R-S.D.) – Thune is the new chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The South Dakota lawmaker, who has been mentioned a potential dark horse 2016 presidential candidate, is taking over for former Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who retired at the end of the 113th Congress. Thune has expressed an interest in issues related to the federal government’s regulation of freight trains that carry crude oil and the U.S. automobile industry’s handling of part recalls.  

2) Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) – Inhofe is the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which will have a large role in crafting any new highway bill that passes Congress in the next two years. The current transportation funding bill is scheduled to expire in May. Inhofe worked closely with former Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on the last multiyear transportation bill that passed Congress, a two-year, $109 billion measure that was approved in 2012 and extended temporarily last summer. 

3) Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) – DeFazio is the new top ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. DeFazio has been vocal about the lack of a transportation funding increase in recent years, and he has pushed for replacing the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax with an oil barrel tax to raise the additional road revenue. DeFazio is taking over for former Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.), who was defeated in his bid for an 18th term in Congress during last November’s elections. 

4) National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind – Rosekind is the new chief of the highway safety agency, which has come under fire from lawmakers for its oversight of widespread recalls at auto companies like General Motors and Japan’s Takata. Rosekind, who was confirmed by the Senate in December, will be tasked with repairing the highway safety agency’s image on Capitol Hill as Republicans promise to probe its handling of both GM and Takata’s problems. 

5) President Obama’s eventual TSA pick – The Transportation Security Administration is starting off 2015 with an acting administrator, Melvin Carraway. Long-time TSA chief John Pistole stepped down from the agency after nearly five years at the helm of the controversial agency. Carraway was appointed Deputy TSA Administrator in July 2014. Prior to his appointment, Carraway served as the agency’s Federal Security Director at the Albuquerque, N.M. International Airport. President Obama has not yet named a permanent replacement for Pistole, who is beginning a new job as president of his alma mater, Anderson University in Indiana.