The Illinois tollway made it official Friday - with board directors voting to confirm the appointment of Kristi Lafleur as executive director and the agency's first female chief.
Lafleur will start April 19 after leaving her job as Gov. Pat Quinn's deputy chief of staff for economic development and recovery.
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Lafleur, 35, had a vision for the agency that made her the leading candidate, Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Chairman Paula Wolff said.
"I was most impressed by her grasp of the challenges facing the tollway and her capacity to think about working as part of a larger transportation system," Wolff said. "She really got the big picture."
Lafleur's annual salary will be $180,000, a decrease from the $189,000 paid to previous tollway executive directors.
The tollway's last permanent Executive Director Jeff Dailey left in late 2008 after a month on the job. Dailey's predecessor, Brian McPartlin, exited in October 2008.
Acting Executive Director Michael King, former tollway communications director, will assist Lafleur with the transition but it's unclear if he will stay with the authority.
"It's still up in the air," King said. "We're working through the details. It's been a wonderful opportunity."
The appointment was announced March 25 but required a formal vote.
More than 30 people applied for the position and tollway board directors interviewed a shortlist of five, including the former executive director of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Mathew J. Amorello, who left under a cloud related to the controversial "Big Dig" tunnel project.
In the past, the governor has played a central role in choosing the authority's executive director. Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed former leaders McPartlin and Jack Hartman. And when former board Chairman John Mitola announced King would be acting executive director and called him the leading candidate for the job, newly sworn-in Gov. Pat Quinn objected to being left out of the process.
Wolff said Quinn's office had suggested candidates, including Lafleur, and the governor was consulted about the selection process. but the decision was the board's.
Lafleur, who has a degree in political science, previously ran her own consulting firm and was chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
She will lead an agency that serves 1.4 million drivers daily on four tollways across 12 counties.
Current challenges include an expensive redo of I-90, business vacancies at the seven oases, and regaining public trust after a backlog of violation notices left thousands of drivers with hefty late fees. The agency is also trying to decide which major highway project to tackle next.
"I'm intrigued by this challenge and the opportunity to take the tollway into its next phase of growth," Lafleur said last week.