Ritter names George CDOT chief | AspenTimes.com

Ritter names George CDOT chief

Jeremy Heiman
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Gov. Bill Ritter announces his selection of Russell George, bottom left, to be the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, as first lady Jeannie Ritter and Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert listen during Saturday afternoon's inaugural celebration at the Garfield County Airport in Rifle. (Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent)

Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE – Governor Bill Ritter took advantage of a stop in Rifle on his inaugural tour of the state Saturday to announce he has chosen Rifle resident Russell George to be executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Minutes after climbing out of a twin-engined airplane, Ritter told a welcoming crowd gathered in a hangar at the Garfield County Airport that George had accepted the position on Friday, and made it clear that the assignment will not be an easy one. He prefaced his announcement by saying the state faces serious problems in transportation infrastructure and in finding funds to pay for needed improvements.

“We need to find a 21st-century way to finance our transportation system,” Ritter said. Federal funding is declining, construction costs are rising, and the state’s growth is driving the need for transportation improvements, he continued.

George accepted the appointment, Ritter said, because of his sense of duty.

“If you cut him open, he would bleed public service,” Ritter said.

After Ritter’s speech, George told members of the press that, though the decision wasn’t easy, he appreciates the appointment.

“For him to give me this new opportunity to provide public service is a deep honor,” he said. Though he is the lone Republican member of Ritter’s cabinet, George said transportation is a public function, and party politics is not a significant factor.

George also conceded that he is taking on a difficult task.

“The issues are so large, and the amounts of dollars involved are enormous,” he said. “We’ve got this convergence of growth and need. Finding funding is of great importance.”

George said Ritter’s administration has already started planning for a transportation summit, George said. A blue-ribbon citizen panel, assisted by administration staff, will convene to identify sources of funding that will support transportation improvements over the long haul, he said.

Colorado presents unique problems for transportation planning related to the size of the state and its mountainous nature. And with the state’s rapid growth, planning must be done further and further in advance.

“I believe you’ve got to make each decision with an eye on 50 years out,” George said.

George has little experience with transportation, but planning won’t be his sole responsibility, and it won’t be done from scratch. CDOT already has an able staff of planners and engineers, and much information is available from other states working on similar problems.

“I have the finest experts in the country at my disposal,” he said. He also has his experience as an administrator and an understanding of state financing issues gained from his years in the legislature.

George has had only a few weeks off since his job at the state’s Department of Natural Resources under Gov. Owens ended. He admitted it had been hard for him to accept the position. He and his wife were ready to take a deep breath, he said.

George has been a state representative, speaker of the Colorado House, director of the Division of Wildlife, and most recently, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. He has driven between Rifle and Denver more times than he can remember.

“I’m on my third trip to the moon and back,” George said, to illustrate the number of miles he has traveled.