Caltrans Director Jeff Morales, who oversaw an ambitious expansion of the state's transportation programs under former Gov. Gray Davis, has resigned.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not named a replacement for Morales, whose resignation from his $123,255-a-year post officially takes effect March 1.
"It's time to let them put their team together and for me to move on," said Morales, 43. He said he didn't know what he would do next.
State transportation insiders expressed differing views on Morales' legacy. To some, he was a visionary who competently steered the California Department of Transportation through a time of roller-coaster budgets. But others said Morales should have devoted more of his energies to improving freeways.
After Morales was appointed in 2000, Davis launched a $5.3-billion program to help relieve traffic congestion. But then California began having financial problems. During the last two years, state officials have diverted $2.5 billion in transportation funding to help balance the budget. Schwarzenegger has proposed diverting $1.1 billion from transportation funding next year.
Under Morales, the Caltrans staff shrank by about 1,500 employees to about 22,000 today. Two years ago, he oversaw the construction of projects worth $10 billion, of which about $6.4 billion worth are now in progress because of funding shortfalls, Caltrans said.
"He is a very skilled manager. He brought projects in quicker at less cost," said Assemblyman John Dutra (D-Fremont), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee. "His departure will be a huge loss for the state of California."
Unlike previous Caltrans directors, who focused solely on building and maintaining highways, Morales -- who formerly worked as a top officer of the Chicago Transit Authority -- was an avid supporter of public transportation.
He was instrumental in helping a San Fernando Valley busway obtain financing, and he instructed his staff to work cooperatively with transit-oriented agencies, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles, to develop bus and rail projects.
But not all were pleased by his efforts.
"I watched in utter frustration as our transportation funds were poured into overpriced mass transit systems at the expense of our long neglected highways," said state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.