BOSTON (SHNS) – Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack is leaving Gov. Charlie Baker’s cabinet to join the Federal Highway Administration next week, a choice that Baker on Thursday called “incredibly bittersweet.”
Pollack will step down Tuesday to become the FHA’s deputy administrator in the new Biden administration, Baker’s office announced Thursday morning. Registrar of Motor Vehicles Jamey Tesler will take over as acting transportation secretary, while RMV chief operating officer Colleen Ogilvie will rise to the role of acting registrar.
“Before she joined the administration I met her when somebody suggested that I should interview her for the job. Neither one of us thought that was gonna go particularly well and we were both really surprised when it did. I think she’s done a terrific job under enormously difficult circumstances,” Baker said Thursday.
Pollack departs after six years as one of the state’s most visible cabinet secretaries, and is leaving at a time when the transportation landscape has been upended by the pandemic, the MBTA is balancing service, safety and infrastructure issues, and the state is trying to advance projects like South Station expansion, replacement of the Cape Cod bridges, extension of commuter rail to the South Coast, a connection between the Red and Blue Lines, and the Allston highway project.
Baker pointed out that, in her new role, Pollack could influence the future of projects that are important to Massachusetts, and how deeply she understands the transportation landscape in the state. “Stephanie is going to play this as a public servant, because that’s kind of in her DNA so the idea that she would walk in there and try and treat Massachusetts profoundly differently than she treats anybody else, that’s not going to happen,” the governor said.
He later added, “It just never hurts to have relationships with people in high places.” The advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts congratulated Pollack and expressed appreciation for her service, while also pointing out that it disagreed with many of her decisions.
T4MA Director Chris Dempsey called Tesler a “smart and capable public official” who “will be able to step into the Acting Secretary role on Day One.” “Governor Baker should seek a permanent Secretary with the vision and expertise to bring real change to the state’s approach to mobility,” Dempsey said. “Massachusetts is poised to deliver on its potential of an efficient, safe, high-performing transportation system that works for everyone in the Commonwealth — but it needs leadership to get there.”
Federal Highway Administrator Executive Director Thomas Everett told staff in an internal email Thursday morning — first reported by POLITICO and acquired by the News Service — that Pollack will start on Monday, but Baker’s office said she will begin her federal position on Wednesday.
“Ms. Pollack was most recently the Secretary and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and served on the boards of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Massachusetts Port Authority,” Everett wrote. “We will benefit greatly from her knowledge of transportation and breadth of experience.”