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Samuel Johnson becomes first Black person to lead Orange County’s Transportation Corridor Agency

Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson has been appointed CEO of Orange County’s Transportation Corridor Agency. He’s the first Black person to hold the position.
(Courtesy of the Transportation Corridor Agency)

Samuel Johnson made history Thursday after becoming the first Black person appointed to the highest-ranking leadership position in Orange County transportation.

The Transportation Corridor Agency, an organization comprised of elected officials who oversee publicly owned toll roads, affirmed that Johnson would assume the role as CEO. Johnson, an Irvine resident with almost 30 years of experience in the industry, was initially named as interim CEO in April.

Since then, he sought to increase the transparency of the agency’s internal audit function, helped strengthen its consumer privacy policy and cut the agency’s annual budget in half while prioritizing jobs and important projects.

Johnson will now lead the organization’s $400-million average annual budget and $1.5-billion investment portfolio.

“The board tapped me on the shoulder in April to take the lead of the agency at such a pivotal time. We were dealing with the health and economic aspects of the pandemic,” Johnson said. “I was glad they acknowledged my talent, and I am honored to have this designation.”

While most Orange County schools are on track to return to campus on Sept. 22, more than 100 schools applied for waivers to open earlier — and most received approval to proceed.

As a firm believer in diversity of thought, Johnson said diversity is a value he champions.

“[It] is how we get to the best solutions,” he said. “Having folks from different backgrounds and perspectives engaged in a conversation is how we advance things with everyone’s best interest in mind.”

Johnson joined TCA in 2015, working as a chief toll operations officer. During that time, he found cost-saving measures and led statewide initiatives to adopt sticker transponders for toll road usage. Prior to that, he spent 12 years working at the San Diego Assn. of Governments and led an executive team that oversaw the county’s tolling enterprise.

His work included creating the nation’s first dynamically priced toll facility for the I-15 Express Lanes. He formerly served as the president of the statewide Toll Operators Committee, which is an organization for California’s toll facility operators and owners.

“I worked with him for the last several years, and his transportation experience and capabilities far surpass those in the industry in my opinion,” said Christina Shea, the mayor of Irvine and the chairwoman of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency. “The board decided they wanted to have a more hands-on CEO who works with each board member individually. He’s worked very well with different department heads.”

Johnson holds a degree in business management from San Diego State University and concurrently serves as president of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Assn., which is a global association for toll facility operators and owners and businesses that serve them.

Johnson said he plans to continue leading the team to a strong financial footing and building out the infill of the TCA system to create efficient forms and routes of transportation for customers.

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