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Caltrans director steps aside

By Heather Lourie
The Orange County Register

SACRAMENTO – Jeff Morales, head of the California Department of Transportation since 2000, resigned from his $123,000 post, the agency confirmed this week.

"I want to give the new governor a chance to bring in whoever he wants," Morales said in an interview. "I don't have definite plans at this point other than intending to stay in California and staying in transportation."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not yet announced a replacement, though Morales plans to stay on until March 1.

"I want to make sure there is a smooth transition," he said. Morales was appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis.

Under Morales' leadership Caltrans:

  • Finished the Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway expansion.
  • Expanded train service on Amtrak's route between San Diego and Los Angeles.
  • Expanded the number of minorities and women in executive-level jobs, including the appointment of Orange County district director Cindy Quon.

Morales acknowledged his replacement has significant challenges ahead with the state's financial crisis, which has forced Caltrans to delay projects and put others on hold. Two years ago, the department had $10 billion in construction under way. It now has $6.5 billion.

"It is a significant decline from where we were," he said. "It's a tough situation right now."

Morales oversees a department of 22,000 employees and manages a $7 billion budget. Previously, he was executive vice president of the Chicago Transit Authority.

"I think we are doing the right sorts of things," he said. "I'm hopeful the overall direction will continue."