Szabo takes the throttle at CMAP

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has appointed former Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo as its next executive director, effective June 15, 2015.

Szabo was selected unanimously after a national search by the agency’s board, which is appointed by elected officials from Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties in Illinois. He will be responsible for operations of CMAP, which has state and federal mandates for regional integration of planning for land use, transportation and related factors “that shape quality of life and economic prosperity.”

Prior to joining CMAP as a senior fellow in January 2015, Szabo served from 2009 to 2015 as the twelfth Federal Railroad Administrator. He led a staff of more than 900 located in Washington, D.C., and at field offices across the nation. Szabo was the first FRA chief to come from the ranks of rail workers, having served as a conductor and switchman with the Illinois Central Railroad and Metra, where his father Joseph Szabo also worked for 40 years. He was also a union official, functioning as local legislative director of the United Transportation Union (now SMART-Transportation Division).

Long before he was appointed FRA head, Szabo served as a zoning commission member in his home town, south suburban Riverdale, Ill., where he later served as a park district commissioner, village trustee and ultimately mayor. He also was a member of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association executive board and transportation committee and the regional Council of Mayors executive committee.

“For me, this is a return to my roots in local government,” said Szabo, recipient of Railway Age’s 2013 W. Graham Claytor Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation. “Municipalities are the most representative form of government and CMAP depends on its strong connection to our region’s towns, cities and counties. While at USDOT, I recognized that CMAP is viewed nationally as a model of regional collaboration. I look forward to working with the agency board, stakeholders and staff to continue that record of excellence on behalf of this region that I love.”

“Our region and agency are fortunate to have a leader of Joe’s depth and vision,” said CMAP Board Chair and Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett. “Metropolitan Chicago and the state as a whole are facing unprecedented challenges, such as the need to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, give residents options to live nearer to where they work and expand parks and open space, to name a few of our priorities. To a significant extent, his highly varied background enables Joe to embody these regional aspirations.”

Bennett, the board and Szabo thanked CMAP Interim Executive Director Jill Leary for guiding the agency since January, when Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed original CMAP Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn as Illinois Secretary of Transportation. When Szabo assumes his new position on June 15, Leary will resume her duties as Chief of Staff.

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