David Ekern, a longtime Minnesota Department of Transportation (DOT) official and most recently director of the Idaho Department of Transportation, has accepted the post of commissioner at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Gov. Tim Kaine announced Friday.
Ekern, an expert on intelligent transportation systems and transportation security matters, served as Idaho's transportation director for the past three years before retiring last month. During his tenure, Idaho embarked on an ambitious $1.2 billion road-building program. Prior to his Idaho work, Ekern spent 33 years with the Minnesota DOT, and beginning in 2001 he was loaned by that agency to a senior executive position at AASHTO in Washington, where he served for two years.
"For the past 13 years, I have known David Ekern as one of the finest professionals in the transportation business," said AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley. "As a senior manager here at AASHTO, David provided national leadership ... in the fields of asset management, context-sensitive solutions and advanced-transportation technologies."
"Dave provided great leadership and utilized his many years of engineering and transportation experience to bring a number of innovations to the Idaho Transportation Department that increased efficiency and effectiveness," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, former governor of Idaho. "He will bring the same commitment to safety and effective use of resources to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia that were so successful in Idaho."
Ekern will fill a post last occupied by Philip Shucet, who stepped down in July 2005. Gregory A. Whirley Sr. has served as acting commissioner in the interim. VDOT has 9,300 employees and a budget of $3.8 billion; the Idaho DOT has 1,800 employees and a $500 million budget.
Kaine said Whirley will serve as chief deputy commissioner in the department. "In the 16 months of his stewardship, the department has increased its on-time, on-budget performance and developed a long-term business plan," Kaine said.
While Kaine has identified transportation needs--including solutions to serious congestion in the northern part of the state and the Hampton Roads area--as a priority, the state legislature has been unable to achieve consensus on how to meet those needs despite a special session five months ago. The tax- and fee-increase proposals placed on the table to finance the work have thus far been rejected, the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot reported.
Virginia House Transportation Committee Chairman Leo Wardrup, who served on a panel that interviewed candidates for the commissioner's job, said Ekern is an "idea man."
"The governor is looking for someone who can bring a fresh approach to things," the Virginia Beach Republican said.
State Sen. Dean Cameron, who chairs the Idaho legislature's budget committee, described Ekern as a "straightforward person" who was key to convincing officials in that state to invest in the road system.
"He challenged the status quo," Cameron said.
Ekern holds a master's degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas and a bachelor's of science in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota. Ekern is a registered professional engineer and has earned the standing of Fellow from the American Society of Civil Engineers.