TOPEKA — Kansas' top transportation official is leaving her post in December to take a position with a national transportation planning and policy group, Gov. Sam Brownback's office announced Tuesday.
Secretary Deb Miller is the first woman to lead the Kansas Department of Transportation and was the only Cabinet holdover from past Democratic administrations after Brownback, a Republican, took office in January. Miller has been transportation secretary since 2003. Her last day will be Dec. 16.
Miller is joining Cambridge Systematics Inc., headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. The company says on its website that it provides consulting services to private companies, state governments, offices of the U.S. Department of Transportation and international agencies.
"I had to debate on it for a very long time because I really and sincerely love what I'm doing and am nowhere near tired of this job," Miller said. "It hasn't run its course for me, but I also think it'd be a great opportunity to do something new."
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Miller will leave almost 18 months after legislators enacted a 10-year, $8 billion program of road, bridge, rail and aviation improvements. She called it one of the biggest accomplishments of her tenure and said she's confident the program has had a good launch.
She also said she'll miss not being secretary when some projects are completed, such as the last stretch of K-10 linking Lawrence to the Kansas City area and a major rail-trucking hub, also in the Kansas City area.
"I would very much have liked to have been on the other end of the shovel when it was time to break ground for the South Lawrence Trafficway," she said. "I would like to be holding a pair of scissors when it's time to clip the ribbon at the new intermodal facility."
Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the governor has no timetable for naming a permanent replacement. The secretary manages one of the state's largest agencies, with a current budget of $1.4 billion and 2,900 employees.
Brownback praised Miller's service to the state, which has included 20 years with the Department of Transportation and a hand in the development of the state's previous transportation plans, in 1989 and 1999.
Her career at KDOT started as a special assistant to the secretary in 1984. She left the agency in 1997 to work for an architectural and engineering firm and returned in 2003 as secretary under Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. She stayed on to work for Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson when Sebelius resigned to become U.S. health and human services secretary.
Miller enjoyed widespread respect among legislators of both parties. State Sen. Kelly Kultala of Kansas City, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee, described Miller in a Facebook posting as "absolutely phenomenal" as secretary.
Julie Lorenz, chief executive of Economic Lifelines, a group that lobbied for all three transportation programs, said Miller worked collaboratively with communities and groups, and "we've all benefited from her approach."