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Tollway Jobs Pay Better Here Than Elsewhere : Compensation: Orange County project pays more on average and has more employees than other urban Sunbelt toll road agencies of comparable size.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the tight economy of the past few years, public officials don’t usually get raises by jumping from one government agency to another. Except in the case of Orange County’s Transportation Corridor Agencies, where compensation per employee is among the highest of any comparably sized toll road agency.

* Gregory G. Henk, the agencies’ top engineer, was making $75,075 when he left Denver’s toll road authority in early 1990. When he joined Orange County’s tollway agencies, he was given $96,000 a year and bumped to $100,506 two months later. He also received a $190,000 low-interest home loan.

* Terrence Geohegan, director of toll operations, made $68,500 when he left Denver’s toll road project early last year. Now he makes $98,219 for the Orange County tollways and occasionally is loaned back to the Denver project at a cost of $54.30 per hour.

* Paul Glaab, the public affairs director, earns $88,291 per year. Less than 18 months ago, he was making $67,896 for the state Department of Transportation as assistant director for internal affairs.

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A study of five tollway agencies in urban Sunbelt areas shows the Transportation Corridor Agencies with the highest budgeted compensation ($95,219) per administrative employee and the highest average amount ($69,888) spent last year for its 44 employees. The other four tollway authorities--in Orlando, Denver, Houston and Oklahoma City--oversee construction with fewer administrators and support staff.

Houston’s Harris County Toll Road Authority has budgeted $41,846 per worker for its 39 administrators and support staff who oversee 82 miles of toll roads. About $186 million in new tollways are under construction.

Denver’s E-470 Public Highway Authority spent an average of $49,698 per administrative employee last year and has budgeted an average of $53,676 for its 17 employees. The authority is building a 46-mile beltway around the city.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, based in Oklahoma City, spent an average of $60,945 each on its 17 employees.

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Orlando’s toll road agency, with 30 administrative employees to oversee $1 billion in roads, spends about $50,000 in salary and benefits per employee. Three years ago, the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority operated with 11 employees.

“We’ve since taken over maintenance and operations of our tollways, so we had to add some people,” said Harold W. Worrall, the executive director of the Florida agency.

“But it has been my personal philosophy that the more people you hire, the more career service people you’re going to get and the bigger the bureaucracy you begin to build,” he said. “I abhor bureaucracy.”

The Transportation Corridor Agencies have budgeted for 47 employees this year. Nearly 2,000 other workers are under contract with the agencies, handling design, construction, financial oversight, surveying, environmental analysis, public relations, traffic studies, legal services, lobbying and other duties.

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While other government entities, such as the Orange County Transportation Authority and the county of Orange, are cutting back in the face of tough economic times, the local toll road agencies plan to grow to 50 or more starting next year and continuing for the next two decades. At least 35 workers are expected to remain on staff, even in the year 2020 and beyond.

Chief Executive Officer William C. Woollett Jr. said he doesn’t care for comparisons but believes he is operating with a small enough staff in overseeing billions of dollars in contracts.

“I really don’t know what other toll road agencies do and I really don’t care,” Woollett said. “To me, that’s not very important because we’re so different” from the others.

Woollett said no toll road authority works quite like the Transportation Corridor Agencies, in which revenue bonds are being sold to build the tollways and the debt retired through development fees on businesses and housing, toll revenue and some state funding. The toll road agencies also are employing state-of-the-art design and construction methods, as well as using the latest toll-collection technology.

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“Everyone else is 10 years behind us on the technology,” he said. “That’s one of the advantages of being ahead, of being in first place.”

But the model of toll-road building efficiency may have come from Broward County, Fla., whose expressway authority built the 23-mile Sawgrass Expressway near Fort Lauderdale in 16 months with just two full-time staffers.

An executive director, making $84,000 a year, and his administrative assistant supervised the project. Broward County’s auditor and financial officers handled money matters and consultants monitored the engineering work.

“I don’t think anyone has built a road with two employees,” said Gerald F. Thompson, a Broward County commissioner and chairman of the authority from 1983 through 1988. “We were on a fast-track schedule.”

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