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Ridley replaces Tomlinson as transportation secretary

Ridley replaces Tomlinson as transportation secretary

This article first appeared in the Journal Record.

April 13, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Gary Ridley said Friday he will stress maintenance of Oklahoma’s network of roads and bridges and expansion of passenger rail lines in the state as Gov. Brad Henry’s new transportation secretary.

Henry tapped Ridley for the cabinet post after accepting the resignation of Transportation Secretary Phil Tomlinson, a member of Henry’s cabinet since 2003.

“I’d like to be able to continue the good policies and work that Secretary Tomlinson has implemented over the past seven years. They put a good plan in place,” Ridley said.

Tomlinson, who is also director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, recently told the governor he wanted to reduce his workload and relinquish his cabinet duties. He will continue to lead the OTA, which oversees the state’s toll road system.

“Phil has worn two hats in my administration for almost seven years now, so he certainly deserves to have some additional time of his own,” Henry said. “I will miss his expertise on my cabinet, but I am happy that he has decided to remain in his leadership position at the OTA.”

The governor’s office said Tomlinson has been instrumental in advancing Henry’s agenda to improve the state transportation system, including the approval of record state funding commitments to road and bridge repair and rehabilitation.

Just last week, the Oklahoma Transportation Commission awarded $228 million in road and bridge repair contracts funded by the federal economic stimulus program as part of the largest amount of transportation dollars spent at one time in the agency’s history.

The commission awarded a total of $270 million in construction work including 48 road and bridge projects paid for by federal stimulus funds.

“I appreciated the opportunity to serve the governor and the state as a cabinet officer, and I’m proud of our accomplishments,” Tomlinson said. “I know the cabinet post will be in good hands with Gary Ridley.”

Ridley, a registered professional engineer, has worked at the Transportation Department for about 40 years and has been the agency’s director since 2001. Ridley will remain ODOT director and assume his cabinet secretary duties immediately.

“I’m honored and certainly humbled at being asked to serve. I can’t tell you how that makes me feel,” he said.

“During his lengthy career in public service, Gary Ridley has done great things for the state of Oklahoma, and I’m thrilled that he has agreed to serve in my cabinet,” the governor said.

“The transportation secretary is a critical position and it is important to have someone who can hit the ground running. No one knows more about Oklahoma transportation than Gary Ridley.”

The post requires Senate confirmation.

Ridley indicated he plans few changes as transportation secretary.

“I think we have a good group. I think Secretary Tomlinson has put together a good team,” he said.

Ridley said serving in the cabinet position will give him more access to the governor but that Henry has always been supportive of transportation infrastructure issues.

“We’ve always had access to the governor’s office if needed,” he said.

Ridley has said the state is burdened with an $11 billion backlog of road and bridge repair work. “Improving the system we have is paramount,” he said.

The state also needs to expand passenger rail service to open up new corridors north to Newton, Kan., and to Tulsa, he said. Currently, only Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer serves the state, traveling daily between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas.

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