Sandy Springs resident Kevin Abel was elected to the State Transportation Board by legislators on March 6.

“It was fun to be down at the statehouse and get back into the policy arena,” said Abel, who takes the board seat on April 15.

Kevin Abel.

The Transportation Board oversees the Georgia Department of Transportation, which confirmed that Abel won the vote. He replaces Mark Burkhalter, a Republican former Georgia House Speaker and Johns Creek resident, who did not stand for re-election after his job took him to London.

Last year, Abel ran unsuccessfully for the 6th Congressional District seat eventually won by fellow Democrat Lucy McBath. The Transportation Board seat he will hold also represents the 6th District, which includes parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and areas of Cobb and north Fulton counties.

The Transportation Board vacancy comes at a time of major GDOT projects in the 6th District, including an ongoing reconstruction of the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange, a controversial plan to add toll lanes along those highways with some property takings, and a unique partnership with MARTA in adding bus service to Ga. 400. Abel previously declined to comment on such issues. He said that, like most residents, he’s familiar with area traffic, joking, “I spent most of my life on Ga. 400.”

The Transportation Board positions are nonpartisan, and the vote is taken privately at the Gold Dome by a caucus of state legislators from within the 6th District in a process that Abel says he understands is intended to remove politics from the decision.

However, party politics made it possible for Abel to get the position, as Democrats took over a majority of local state legislative seats in a “blue wave” last fall. Abel said he understands that Republican legislators had their own candidate for the board seat whom they did not put forward after realizing they did have enough caucus votes to win.

“Traffic shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Certainly, aspects of it will have conservative leanings or progressive leanings,” said Abel, emphasizing the nonpartisan nature of the seat and that he has several friends among Republican legislators as well as Democratic ones.

Abel said he now will receive a “Transportation 101” type of orientation. GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry attended the vote, Abel said, and many legislators already want to meet with him as well.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.