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New transportation commissioner

Published (4/25/2008)
By Mike Cook
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Tom Sorel has been picked by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to be the state’s new transportation commissioner, and it appears he will be confirmed by the Senate.

Sorel has been with the Federal Highway Administration for 30 years, most recently as head of the division office in Minnesota. His first day with the Transportation Department is scheduled to be April 28.

“With 30 years of transportation experience and a civil engineering background, Tom Sorel is the right person to lead MnDOT,” Pawlenty said. “Tom Sorel will provide the leadership, as we continue to build a modern and efficient transportation system for Minnesota.”

Sorel, who has a degree in civil engineering and a master of business administration, has served as a major project team leader in Washington, D.C., and director of planning and program development and chief of technology services in Albany, N.Y. He also led the effort to build infrastructure for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

“I’m a servant leader with a passion for transportation and innovation,” he said. “That’s the philosophy that has served me well, and that’s a philosophy that I hope to bring to the department.”

Two of his goals are to rebuild the public trust and confidence with the department and to regenerate a “spirit of innovation and creativity” in the state. He is willing to look at all transportation options, including light rail.

Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said it is “likely” that Sorel would receive Senate confirmation.

Other finalists for the position were Robert Johns, director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota, and Assistant to the Commissioner Bob McFarlin, who has been leading the department since Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau failed to receive a confirmation vote from the Senate.

“Each brings different strengths to the table,” Pawlenty said. “It was very close.”

Pawlenty credited McFarlin for serving with “a great deal of effectiveness, and class, and dignity, and grace,” since Molnau’s Feb. 28 ouster.

“Bob has done a good job of setting the table, and now we just need to sit down and eat,” Murphy said.

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