There will be a reshuffling of Senate committee leaders in the new Congress, with new chairmen for two key panels for construction: Appropriations and Commerce. But Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) is staying put.

On Appropriations, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) announced on Nov. 7 that he will step down as chairman, effective on Jan. 6. The gavel will pass to Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), who is next in seniority. Byrd, who has been on the committee for 50 years, will be 91 on Nov. 20 and has been in frail health. He will remain on the committee and continue to chair its homeland security subcommittee.

“Senator Byrd has been a leader on transportation initiatives, specifically on roadways, for decades,” says David Bauer, American Road and Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for government relations. Inouye has a strong interest in military issues, and chairs Appropriations’ defense subcommittee. But Bauer says, “I can’t recall him ever voting against a transportation initiative.”

Inouye will give up the top spot on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Next in line there is Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), but it’s unclear whether he will give up his chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee. A Rockefeller spokesman didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Commerce will have the lead Senate role in drafting a new Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, including funding levels for FAA Airport Improvement Program construction grants. Rockefeller chairs the aviation subcommittee. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) follows Rockefeller in seniority on Commerce but has been mentioned as a possible candidate for a Cabinet post in the Obama administration.

Dodd was in line to succeed Vice President-elect Joseph Biden (D-Del.) as Foreign Relations Committee chairman. But Dodd said on Nov. 6 that he will remain as Banking’s chairman. His priorities there include overseeing the response to the financial crisis, which he called “the center of gravity to which all of our other problems are pulled.” Banking also will write the transit title of the Senate’s new surface transportation bill, which is due in 2009.