Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday that her pick for the next chief of the state’s Highway Department has extensive experience with federal highway administrators and grants programs that will benefit the state.
At a State House press conference, Haley named Janet Oakley, a federal transportation policy expert with more than 30 years of experience, to head the S.C. Department of Transportation, overseeing the state’s decaying road system and $29 billion in needed road repairs.
For nearly 15 years, Oakley, 62, has been the director of policy and government relations for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a membership organization for state transportation departments.
In that role, Oakley has managed national transportation policy development on behalf of state transportation departments while also directing several other association programs.
Haley touted Oakley’s knowledge of and professional ties to federal highway programs and grants programs but added her experience as a state and local transportation planner also made her an ideal candidate. Haley also said Oakley’s desire to focus on road needs statewide also stood out from the other candidates that the first-term Republican considered for the job.
“Everybody came with a different region in mind,” Haley said of the other candidates. “They wanted to help the Pee Dee. They wanted to help the Lowcountry. They wanted to help the Upstate. ... What I didn’t want was someone who was going to continue improving infrastructure (just) in a region of South Carolina,” she said.
“I can bring to South Carolina a breadth of experience and depth of knowledge to help all the regions of the state,” Oakley said in brief remarks.
Now a resident of Friendship, Md., Oakley’s work for the transportation officials association has put her in touch with transportation chiefs in states across the nation. Haley said Oakley has seen what works and what does not in transportation policy.
Previously, Oakley spent six years as director of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and another six years with the National Association of Regional Councils as director of transportation and governmental affairs.
Earlier in her career, Oakley worked as a local, state and federal transportation planner, a budget analyst for a U.S. House of Representatives transportation subcommittee, and an assistant in the Kentucky transportation department. She has a master’s degree in planning from Eastern Kentucky University.
With the approval of the state Senate, Oakley will fill the position left vacant when former Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge resigned in January after a drunken-driving arrest.
Haley’s spokesman, Doug Mayer, said the governor will ask that Oakley receive the same salary at St. Onge, which was $156,220, according to the Transportation Department.
Oakley, who has family in the Upstate, said she and her husband built a house on Edisto Island about two years ago with plans to retire there in a couple of years.
“I was able with this opportunity to speed up this move to South Carolina, which I am delighted to do,” Oakley said. “I will call upon all of my professional colleagues and my network to help us as we move forward on the journey. South Carolina has a lot of interesting challenges, as every state does.”
If confirmed, Oakley plans to move to Columbia with her husband.