Published on June 27th, 2013 | by UC&D Magazine0
Changing of the Guard
By Brad Fullmer
After 12 years of being in the white hot spotlight that accompanies serving as the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), John Njord is looking forward to the next phase of his career, one that promises considerably less scrutiny and day-to-day pressure.
“I will not miss the second guessing that occurs on decisions made on behalf of the community,” said Njord, 52, who spent more than 25 total years at UDOT and is now working as a consultant for a firm founded by former mentor and past UDOT Executive Director Tom Warne. “When you launch into an environment with public services, there is a lot of scrutiny on decisions you make, including from the news media. Everyone has an opinion on transportation. Not seeing my name in the newspaper is something I am looking forward to.”
The biggest change I’ve already noticed is that for 12 years I had John right behind me. Now, the buck stops here. I’m not intimidated by that, but it is a noticeable difference.” – Carlos Braceras
Njord certainly went out with a bang. The end of 2012 marked the conclusion of a record three-year, $3 billion program for UDOT, including the completion of two landmark projects: the $1.1 billion I-15 Utah County Corridor (I-15 CORE) expansion and the $245 million Mountain View Corridor (construction costs on both). I-15 CORE was the fastest billion-dollar-plus public highway project ever completed in U.S. history, as it was completed start-to-finish in less than three years.
Njord said he’ll mainly miss the day-to-day interactions and associations he had with so many great people.
“Clearly I’ll miss more than anything the people I worked with, both within UDOT and outside agency partners,” he said. “I developed a lot of friendships within the engineering consulting and contracting world. I’m proud of what has been accomplished with our transportation system.”
“John’s leadership at UDOT is unparalleled, not just in Utah, but nationwide,” said Rich Thorn, President/CEO of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Utah. “The fact he served (as Executive Director) for 12 years is in and of itself extraordinary. It says a lot about his vision and his ability to be flexible. Under his watch UDOT set itself apart on a regional and national level.”
“John positioned the Utah Department of Transportation as a stand-out leader for innovation through a variety of cutting-edge projects and programs,” said Utah Governor Gary Herbert. “During John’s tenure Utah’s roads became smoother and more structurally sound, mobility increased, and fatalities decreased by 41 percent. The State of Utah is truly grateful for John’s 25 years of exceptional service.”
Stepping into the role as UDOT’s top dog is Carlos Braceras, 54, who was appointed as Executive Director May 6 by Herbert. Tabbing Braceras was almost a no-brainer, given that he served as Njord’s Deputy Director for all 12 years, has more than a quarter-century worth of experience at UDOT, and has forged hundreds of long-term relationships with government officials, contractors, consultants, legislators, and other key agency and municipality decision-makers who comprise Utah’s transportation industry.
Braceras is now in charge of 1,800 UDOT employees, and a complex 6,000-mile system of roads, highways and bridges, for which he feels well-prepared for.
“From a technical perspective, yes I feel prepared,” said Braceras. “I know the issues we have around our state, and I understand the budget. The biggest change I’ve already noticed is that for 12 years I had John right behind me. Now, the buck stops here. I’m not intimidated by that, but it is a noticeable difference.”
Njord has little doubt the Department is in good hands.
“Carlos is a work sponge; if any work comes close to him he sucks it up and takes it,” Njord said. “As Executive Director, Carlos is the face of the agency and he’ll have to learn to delegate. One of the most important things he will do is continue to build relationships with local governments, legislators, and others involved with transportation, as well as developing and maintaining trust.”
Carrying on UDOT’s Mission
Braceras’ initial plans for the remainder of 2013, and looking ahead to 2014, are to continue emphasizing UDOT’s four strategic goals, including:
- Preserve Infrastructure
- Improve Mobility
- Strengthen Economy
- Zero Fatalities
Beyond those goals, Braceras believes there are myriad ways to improve UDOT.
“We need to expand how we do our work in ways that are more collaborative with communities and help them be successful with their goals,” he said. “We also want to do everything we can to improve the transparency of the Department. It’s the public’s money; we want to provide the public with the means to follow their money and see how it is being used on the design and construction of new projects.”
Braceras is also committed to maintaining and enhancing UDOT’s image as a leader in transportation innovation. Under Njord’s watch UDOT established itself as the preeminent DOT nationally in Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) techniques, in addition to implementing new design technologies such as diverging diamond interchanges (DDI) and continuous flow intersections (CFI).
Transportation funding is also a perennially key topic. Although 2013 is a slow year for the Department, with roughly 180 projects on the docket consisting of mostly preservation and rehabilitation jobs, there should be significantly more new projects let out from 2014-2017.
“We are interested in finding ways to improve our system to where it provides businesses with a competitive advantage,” said Braceras.
People in the industry are confident Braceras will keep UDOT’s momentum moving forward.
“I’ve been around the country and UDOT has one of the best run departments in the United States,” said Con Wadsworth, President of Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction of Draper. “Our guys have their s— together. Both John and Carlos are bright guys. You’re not losing a heck of a lot with Carlos. I’m more concerned with who replaces Carlos (as Deputy Director). The department has come a long ways.”
“Carlos made John great in many ways; John made Carlos great in many ways,” said Thorn. “Most of the people I’ve talked to are happy with Carlos as Executive Director. He’s an amazing leader, he’s respected, and he has the ability to be a good listener. He knows the political process and how to work with legislative agencies. We’re confident that UDOT will not miss a beat.”
“Carlos Braceras is a man of outstanding capability and extraordinary expertise,” added Governor Herbert. “His well-articulated vision for Utah’s future transportation system focuses on our economy, optimal mobility, maximum value for tax dollars and our unique quality of life.”