Governor may have freer hand to choose new UDOT chief
Politics • Bill would change role of Transportation Commission in picking new director.
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Gov. Gary Herbert would enjoy a freer hand to choose the new head of the Utah Department of Transportation under a bill that passed through committee on Wednesday.

The Senate Transportation, Public Utilities and Technology Committee unanimously endorsed SB178, and sent it to the full Senate.

It would no longer would require the governor to choose from candidates recommended by the Utah Transportation Commission. The governor would merely need to consult with the commission instead.

"We felt this was really the call of the governor," said Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, sponsor of the bill.

In an overhaul of his Cabinet announced in December, Herbert said he plans to replace current UDOT Executive Director John Njord —¬†who has said he will serve until replaced.

Njord led UDOT through projects for the 2002 Olympics, the construction of Legacy Parkway, the Mountain View Corridor and a massive rebuild of Interstate 15 in Utah County. He also brought such innovations as sliding new bridges into place overnight after building them to the side of freeways.

In 2010, however, he was at the center of controversy involving a $13 million payment to a bidder who contended he lost the $1.1 billion contract to rebuild I-15 because of tweaking of bids by UDOT. The bid went to a major campaign contributor of Gov. Gary Herbert. More recently, Njord was found to have improperly fired a worker accused of leaking information about the I-15 bid, and UDOT was forced to pay back wages.