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Road agency chooses leader
Joseph Waggoner of Maryland will run the Expressway Authority.
By MIKE BRASSFIELD
Published July 11, 2007
Board members said they were wowed by Joseph Waggoner's 28-year career and his knowledge of toll road financing, engineering and the political arena.
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
TAMPA -- Looking for an experienced and credible leader, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority on Tuesday chose a veteran transportation official from Maryland to head the agency.
Board members unanimously picked Joseph Waggoner, 52, over four other finalists because they think he's ready to take over Hillsborough's toll road agency and immediately deal with some big decisions.
"He's the total package," said board chairman James Hargrett.
The agency is looking at building two more toll roads, both of which are complicated: a 3-mile New Tampa East-West Road, and a mile-long elevated roadway through Ybor City connecting Interstate 4 with the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.
The authority wants an executive director who can hit the ground running -- someone like Waggoner, who is the chief of planning and development for the Maryland Transportation Authority, a 1,400-employee toll agency that operates a turnpike, tunnels and bridges.
"There are a lot of urgent tactical decisions facing the authority," said new board member Donald Phillips. "I don't think any of us would want to take a plane trip on the pilot's first day."
The Expressway Authority has been a snakebitten agency in recent years, dealing with scandals, criticism, state investigations into its inner workings and lawmakers' threats to abolish it. Staffers have joked that its headquarters must have been built on an ancient Indian burial ground.
But the five candidates to lead the authority all said they saw an organization with a bright future -- on solid financial ground, with its problems behind it, and great potential for growth.
The $40-million-a-year public agency operates the 14-mile Crosstown Expressway, which it has been adding to since the road first opened in 1976.
Its board includes elected officials and governor's appointees. And its last two permanent executive directors made memorable exits. In November, Ralph Mervine resigned abruptly amid questions about his links to a gay porn film business. That happened as state auditors were questioning the authority's business practices and the agency was accused of conducting public business in secret.
In 2004, Pat McCue was fired after part of the Crosstown's new elevated lanes collapsed while the project was under construction. At the time, the mishap led to widespread public doubts about the roadway's safety.
This year an interim director, Stephen L. Reich, has been at the helm. But he has always intended to return to his job as a consultant at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.
Reich, who has held public transportation jobs in Maryland, served as a reference for Waggoner. But Reich said he refrained from campaigning on Waggoner's behalf.
Board members said they were wowed by Waggoner's 28-year career and his knowledge of toll road financing, engineering and the political arena.
During an interview with the board Monday, Waggoner spoke forcefully about fixing problems without getting caught up in "the blame game," and he outlined a business philosophy of building roads that are likely to bring in a healthy amount of tolls.
The Expressway Authority's general counsel will begin negotiating a contract with Waggoner and is to report back to the board at its July 23 meeting. The advertised salary range for the job topped out at $210,000 a year. The board's second choice is Robert Reardon, a public works director in Wrentham, Mass.
Waggoner, who is married with three grown sons, said he's ready for the challenge of running the Expressway Authority. His first task: study up on it.
"I'm not ready to tell you what my vision is," he said, "because I've got a lot to learn."