MnDOT's McFarlin unsure of longer appointment

Bob McFarlin
Interim Department of Transportation Commissioner Bob McFarlin speaking to the media in the aftermath of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse last year.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

The interim leader at the Minnesota Department of Transportation hasn't decided whether to seek a more lasting appointment to the commissioner's post.

Longtime agency executive Bob McFarlin is serving as acting commissioner now that the Senate has ousted Carol Molnau from the department's corner office. Gov. Tim Pawlenty hopes to name a permanent replacement by mid-March.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, McFarlin said his primary task is to repair the agency's standing with the Legislature. He's already met with the top senator and House member on transportation issues.

"My message is it's a new day now," he said. "We want to rebuild relationships, rebuild trust and reduce animosity."

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

He said he will seek legislative input when fashioning a plan for spending billions of new transportation dollars, which the Legislature authorized over Pawlenty's veto.

The idea of McFarlin permanently heading the Transportation Department got an unenthusiastic response from a leading senator. The Senate has the power to confirm or reject Pawlenty's pick for the job.

"There's a number of folks who are concerned that there's an upper layer of management issues there, that he is part of the problem, not the solution," said DFL Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark. "But we don't have any reason to believe that he will be more than an acting commissioner."

McFarlin was a key assistant to Molnau, but he says he'll bring his own ideas, approach and identity to the top job.

The 50-year-old has 13 years of experience in the agency but he has been around transportation and politics his whole life. His father was a bridge engineer and a three-term state legislator.

McFarlin started with MnDOT as director of public affairs in 1992 and rose to chief of staff. He left the agency in 1999 for stints as an administrator with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities board and as the president of a consulting group.

He came back to the Transportation Department as Molnau's assistant for policy and public affairs in 2003. His responsibilities have included working with Pawlenty's office, heading a commuter rail task force and serving as the agency's public face during last year's Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)