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Transportation chief Gary Ridley rolls into Cabinet

Transportation chief Gary Ridley rolls into Cabinet

This article first appeared in

Published: April 11, 2009

A 41-year veteran of the state Transportation Department who successfully fought for increased funding the past four years and scrambled to help secure $465 million in federal stimulus money is the governor’s pick to be transportation secretary.

Gary Ridley, 63, will continue to serve as director of the state Transportation Department, Gov. Brad Henry said Friday.

The Cabinet post requires Senate confirmation, but Ridley assumes his new duties immediately, Henry’s office said.

Ridley, head of the department since 2001, will succeed Phil Tomlinson, who submitted his resignation, the governor’s office said. Tomlinson will remain director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, which oversees the state’s 10 toll roads.

Rebuilding Oklahoma’s roads and bridges has been a priority for Ridley, who said about 315 bridges have been built in three years.

While roads and bridges get the most attention, transportation issues for the state’s waterways, rail systems and airports must not be taken lightly, he said. He said he also wants to get involved in developing the state’s commercial space industry.

"When you look at moving en masse, whether it is on rail, whether it is on rubber, you have to have a system that is convenient, that is dependable, that is affordable, and understand that it has to be subsidized,” Ridley said. "The difficulty is always in: How do we finance it so that it can be affordable, it can be dependable and it can be accessible to people?”

Why the exit?
Tomlinson, 70, had been one of Henry’s longest-serving Cabinet members. Henry appointed Tomlinson, then a real estate developer, shortly after his 2003 inauguration.

"This is by far the most interesting thing that I’ve ever done and probably one of the most satisfying things,” Tomlinson said. "I’m getting to the age that I’d like to have a little shorter workweek, and he was understanding of that.”

He said the success the Transportation Department has had in securing money could be attributed to Henry’s insistence that those in the agency determine which road and bridge projects should be funded instead of allowing the governor and legislators to choose them.

Tomlinson said he wanted to stay on with the Turnpike Authority to continue work on developing new service plazas for the turnpike system. The first new plaza opened earlier this year off the Cimarron Turnpike. He also wants to continue analyzing turnpike revenue, which is down this year, to see whether an increase in tolls is necessary.

Tomlinson said he is excited about new weigh stations. Construction is set to start this fall. The project is a partnership between the Transportation Department and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, he said.

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