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After conducting a nationwide search for a new executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, Gov. Gary Herbert selected someone close to home on Monday elevating Carlos Braceras, who had been UDOT's deputy director for 12 years.
"He understands Utah and he understands Utah's transportation system," Herbert said.
"His well-articulated vision for Utah's future transportation system focuses on our economy, optimal mobility, maximum value for tax dollars and our unique quality of life," Herbert said. "Carlos Braceras is a man of outstanding capability and extraordinary expertise."
Braceras said, "I have great confidence in the people I work with everyday to continue to pioneer new ways to address Utah's transportation challenges."
He will be responsible for UDOT's 1,800 employees and the design, construction and maintenance of Utah's 6,000-mile system of highways and will serve as a member of the governor's Cabinet.
Braceras replaces John Njord, who led UDOT for 12 years but was tainted in a 2010 controversy over quietly paying $13 million to a losing bidder on a $1.1 billion contract to rebuild Interstate 15 in Utah County.
That contractor claimed UDOT tweaked bid scoring to rob it of the huge contract, which went instead to a consortium that donated $87,500 to Herbert's campaign that year. Later, Njord was found to have improperly fired an employee who allegedly leaked information about the I-15 bid, and the department was forced to pay back wages.
While Braceras was the No. 2 official at UDOT during those controversies, Democrats who attacked Herbert and Njord at the time had only praise for Braceras on Monday.
"I've got nothing but good to say about Carlos Braceras," said former Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, who decried the I-15 bid controversy in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign against Herbert."When the UDOT scandal happened, you didn't know where mistakes were being made. But I always thought Carlos was a top-notch person."
Similarly, while Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, says the I-15 bid controversy still "lingers over the governor like a dark cloud and it will forever," he says "Carlos is the right choice for the job."
Dabakis said Braceras distanced himself from the scandal, "is not particularly political," and "really knows and understands the engineering and technical parts of the job. That's really what we need and that's what it's about.... He's smart. He knows the state."
As Braceras served as deputy director to Njord for 12 years, the pair led the department through the 2002 Olympics, construction of the Legacy Parkway, the rebuild of I-15 in Utah County, the new Mountain View Corridor and the introduction of several unusual-design interchanges intended to reduce congestion.
Braceras joined UDOT in 1986. Other positions he held besides deputy director included director of UDOT's Region Three in central Utah, chief geotechnical engineer, chief value engineer, a member of the Legacy Parkway/I-15 North Project team and as a roadway design engineer.
He had also been acting director at UDOT since Njord left at the end of March.
Before joining UDOT, he worked as a geologist doing oil and gas exploration, and also worked for Snowbird ski resort. He received a bachelor's degree in geology from the University of Vermont, and a bachelor's in civil engineering from the University of Utah.
The governor's office said it had 56 applications for the position from around the country. It said the top seven applicants came from Florida, Indiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon and Utah. Job titles of those candidates included the chief of a state transportation department, a state division director, a state program engineer, a state director of contracts, and top officials of contracting companies.