Tuesday, May 31, 2005

RICHMOND — Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet, hired three years ago to improve a highway-building agency plagued by delays and cost overruns, has resigned effective July 1, Gov. Mark Warner said yesterday.

Mr. Warner said he reluctantly accepted Mr. Shucet’s resignation after several days of trying to persuade him to stay until the end of Mr. Warner’s term in January.

“I’m obviously disappointed, but grateful that he stayed as long as he did,” Mr. Warner said. “I’m very proud of his record. With his team, he’s helped turn around [the Virginia Department of Transportation] and has gone a long way toward restoring the public’s trust and the legislature’s trust.”

Mr. Shucet, 55, said he was quitting to spend more time with his family in Virginia Beach. He has often expressed frustration with the highway agency’s meager resources, but he said that had nothing to do with his decision.

The 2005 General Assembly approved an $848 million infusion for highways — a fraction of long-term transportation needs estimated at $25 billion.

“The time is just right for me to head on home,” he told the Associated Press. “I’m not leaving because I’m frustrated, mad or upset. I always saw this situation as about a three-year deal.”

Mr. Shucet previously worked for the highway departments in Arizona and his native West Virginia.

He gave up a lucrative position as executive vice president of a global engineering and energy management company to take on the challenge of turning around the troubled state transportation department.

Mr. Shucet has avoided partisan entanglements and has won respect and praise from Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly.

“He has done a tremendous service to Virginia and I hope people learn to appreciate it,” said state Sen. Martin E. Williams, Newport News Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. ?He’s been a hell of a reformer.?

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, said that under Mr. Shucet’s leadership, the percentage of highway projects completed on time has increased from 20 percent in fiscal year 2001 to 74 percent through the third quarter of this year.

On-budget performance improved from 51 percent to 81 percent, he said.

Mr. Shucet also brought a dose of reality to VDOT’s six-year road-building plan, Mr. Warner said.

Since 2001, the six-year construction program has been cut by more than one-third.

“When we came in, the six-year plan was a disaster — a wish list,” the governor said. “It had no credibility. The six-year plan is now a real plan. Folks may not like it because it doesn’t have a lot of projects, but it’s what we can afford.”

He also credited Mr. Shucet with improving the morale of VDOT’s 10,000-plus employees and building a strong management team.

Corporate executives who have pressed for improvements to a decaying transportation network that they see as a threat to Virginia’s economy said they are sorry to see Mr. Shucet go.

“I think the business community has reacted well to Phil and vice versa,” said Michael G. Anzilotti, president of Virginia Commerce Bancorp Inc. in Arlington and co-chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade’s transportation committee.

“He has listened to us, he is aware of the needs, and I think he’s frustrated with the General Assembly’s inability to react to problems and to make transportation our top priority.”

Mr. Warner’s announcement came nearly two weeks after he received a letter in which Mr. Shucet declared: “My assignment is complete.”

Mr. Warner said he will appoint an interim commissioner from within VDOT’s ranks by the end of the week. He also said he hopes the next governor will follow his lead and appoint a professional road builder to the job rather than use it to reward a political supporter.

• Associated Press writers Stephanie Stoughton and Bob Lewis contributed to this report.

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