ATLANTA (AP) Gena Lester Abraham said that gender won’t be a major focus for her as she takes over as the first-ever woman to head Georgia’s Department of Transportation.
“I’ve not ever been focused on the being-a-female issue in construction,” said Abraham, whose grandfather owned a construction company and who managed construction sites across the U.S. for LaSalle Partners. “I’ve been in construction all my life; it’s sort of in my blood.”
Abraham was selected by the state’s transportation board Oct. 17 to be the agency’s 14th commissioner.
The DOT has nearly 5,800 employees statewide and a budget of more than $2 billion.
Soon after her appointment to the position, which she started in November, Abraham’s appointment spurred political intrigue. Abraham, who holds a doctorate in civil engineering from Georgia Tech, was considered Gov. Sonny Perdue’s pick for the spot.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who fought bitterly with Perdue over spending priorities during this year’s legislative session, was backing Rep. Vance Smith, chairman of the House Transportation committee.
Perdue, Richardson and Smith all are Republicans.
“Gena is obviously very capable, but Vance is a proven expert in the field of transportation. I fully support him and assume the rest of the House leadership does as well,” Richardson said prior to Abraham’s appointment.
Abraham said she’s confident the political squabbling won’t hurt her odds of pushing spending plans through the Legislature — even though Smith will chair the committee that considers the plans and Richardson will have major influence in final budget decisions.
“I don’t feel like Vance was a competitor or opponent,” she said. “Rep. Smith is an ally and I’m really going to count on his support as we move forward.”
Abraham has inherited a department that is wrestling with how to meet the transportation needs of the booming Atlanta area, which has become known for its traffic gridlock and long commutes.
The state is considering whether to raise taxes to fund transportation improvements to keep pace with the region’s growing population.
In an interview with the Associated Press, she declined to name any specific problems she plans to focus on, instead saying the Department of Transportation needs “a comprehensive transportation plan for all of Georgia.”
Abraham was appointed by Perdue in February 2006 as state property officer and has served as the executive secretary and the director of the Construction Division of the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission since June 2003.
Before that she was an assistant professor of construction engineering and management in the Civil Engineering Department at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
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