Phil Wilson is stepping down as executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, after serving a little over two years.
Wilson, the first nonengineer to lead the highway agency in its modern history, resigned Wednesday to become general manager and CEO of the Lower Colorado River Authority, which sells wholesale water and electricity in Central Texas.
Wilson was brought aboard in October 2011 as the agency struggled to repair its torn relationship with the public and state lawmakers. The department oversees Texas’ 70,000-mile-plus road network.
“I am very proud of the work that we have accomplished, from improving the department’s safety record to the projects that we have delivered for the people of Texas to the relationships we have furthered with our partners across the state,” Wilson wrote in a letter to the agency’s roughly 11,000 employees Wednesday afternoon. “The successes have not always been easy, but with your hard work and dedication we continue to make TxDOT and Texas better each day.”
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Although Wilson’s tenure was generally met with praise, his administration came under intense fire during the most recent legislative session after announcing plans to convert run-down highways commonly used by natural gas trucks into gravel roads, and to turn over responsibility for upkeep of highways in urban areas to cities. The latter could leave local taxpayers with the responsibility of paying for roads the state previously managed.
Department officials hadn’t yet announced plans Wednesday to search for a replacement.
Wilson was “an innovator” who looked at long-standing problems with a fresh view, said former Texas Transportation Commissioner Bill Meadows of Fort Worth. Last year, Wilson found a way to save $2 million a year simply by taking the advice of a rank-and-file employee in Dallas who told Wilson he didn’t understand why the agency traditionally repainted its equipment with “federal yellow” paint.
“He was a high-impact player in a short period,” Meadows said.
Wilson will begin work at the Lower Valley River Authority on Feb. 1, the authority said in a statement Wednesday. He replaces Rebecca S. Motal, who announced in September that she is retiring after a 27-year career.
Before arriving at the Transportation Department, Wilson was senior vice president of public affairs for Luminant, a power generation giant. He also served as Texas secretary of state under Gov. Rick Perry beginning in 2007 and was chairman of the Governor’s Competitiveness Council and a member of the Texas Border Security Council.
“I see Phil Wilson as a problem solver,” river authority Chairman Tim Timmerman said after his board voted unanimously Wednesday to offer the top job to Wilson. “Phil is an excellent choice for our general manager. He’s operated one of the state’s larger public agencies. He has deep experience in two of our main lines of business, generation and transmission of electricity.”
“He steps into this job at a critical time,” Timmerman said. “Our region faces serious challenges as this drought continues. LCRA plays an important role in developing new water supplies as we manage current supplies for more than a million people. LCRA also provides a reliable source of electricity, which is vital to our growing region.”
Wilson grew up in Brownwood and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and history in 1990 at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. He earned a master’s degree in business administration at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.