2019 was a big year for Tim Gatz – he was appointed Secretary of Transportation by Gov. Kevin Stitt as well as named the executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Gatz is no stranger to the department – he started at ODOT in 1990 as a drafting technician and worked his way up the ladder.

An Oklahoma native, Gatz has received a variety of accolades in his career, including the Oklahoma Good Roads and Transportation Association’s Bill Skeith Stewardship Award, as well as the Governor’s Public Service Award. Gatz lives in El Reno with his wife, Sandy, and their two sons. We caught up with him and got his thoughts on … 

… his dedication to ODOT.

I am but one among a sizable group of long-tenured Transportation Cabinet employees. I think the most significant factor for me has been being a part of an organization that truly believes that our employees are our most important resources. We care about one another and, in many cases, are absolutely trained to look out for each other. There is a great deal of job satisfaction that results from making a measurable difference for Oklahoma citizens and in improving our infrastructure to support future generations.

… what drew him into transportation.

At the time I graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate was somewhere around 7-8% and jobs were hard to find. I am a fourth generation Oklahoman and had no desire to leave the state, so ultimately, I worked part-time and as contract labor.

After about a year, I was extremely fortunate to land an entry level, full-time position as a drafting tech with ODOT. A landscape architecture degree is not just about horticulture and plant material. It turns out that the surveying, construction materials and construction management, design, project management, urban planning and computer-aided drafting education I received at OSU was a great fit for the transportation sector. It was still supposed to be the job that was going to get me to my next job. But I wasn’t afraid of hard work, the department had plenty to do and was full of great people meeting some pretty extreme challenges every day. So, some 30-plus years later, here I am, and I still love the people I work with and every minute of the job we do together.

… ODOT’s main responsibilities. 

You really don’t have to look any further than the back of our business card. We are responsible for providing a safe, economical and effective transportation network for the people, commerce and communities of Oklahoma. My job is to make sure we stay aligned with the Governor and the Legislature to accomplish that mission through the wise investment of and stewardship for the taxpayer dollars with which we are entrusted. Also, I serve as the head transportation team builder. I have the privilege to work every day with incredible state, county, local and federal officials along with ODOT and private-sector engineers, contractors, equipment and material suppliers, administrators and other professionals who are dedicated to the same mission.

…his hobbies.

My time outside of work is focused on spending as much of it as I am able to with my family, especially my wife Sandy. Her support is the only reason that I get to do what I do and sometimes, that’s not easy on her. Someday I’ll find those lost hobbies and interests, but right now there’s work to be done. 

…his role as Secretary of Transportation.

As Gov. Stitt’s Secretary of Transportation, I am the conduit for Executive Branch communications and directional alignment for the Transportation Cabinet agencies consisting of the Department of Transportation, the Turnpike Authority and the Aeronautics Commission. I have served on transportation executive teams with ODOT and OTA since 2006. Oklahoma government is progressing further toward a modernized organizational, technological and policy structure across the board than any other time in my experience. We are encouraged and empowered as leaders to find and implement better and more efficient ways to deliver our services to Oklahoma citizens with measurable results. The level of transformation I have witnessed is certainly not without a multitude of challenges, but a stagnant, status-quo and uninspired government is unacceptable. These are exciting times for Oklahoma’s agencies!

I didn’t aspire to be the Secretary of Transportation and I can’t imagine that anyone really ever does. However, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to contribute and for the honor and privilege of serving the Governor and the people of Oklahoma in this capacity.

… his goals.

The safety of the traveling public is our No. 1 priority. Long-term, we need to continue our work to add safety shoulders to the more than 5,300 miles of rural highways that are narrow and dangerous. Only 34 percent of Oklahoma’s population is characterized as rural and more than 65 percent of all fatalities happen on rural roads.

In the near term, I would like to see Oklahoma become a top 10 state in seat belt usage. That alone could reduce fatalities significantly. Only 85 percent of Oklahoma drivers buckle up but we need to be at about 95 percent to enter the top 10. You are almost 50 percent more likely to die in a vehicular accident if you aren’t wearing a seat belt. Make it click for your family. Safety – it’s not just about you.

… his proudest accomplishments.

It’s back to those incredible people. Any success that I have had during the course of my career is directly attributable to the folks I get to work with every day who achieve the impossible. With the help and support of several Legislatures and Governors, we have invested in and improved the condition of Oklahoma’s transportation infrastructure significantly and all Oklahomans should be proud of that because it presents well for our future. Today, we are a Transportation Cabinet that is much more cognizant of the broad transportation needs of our state and the depth of the responsibilities that we have. We aren’t just concrete, asphalt and steel. We are aerospace, research and development, freight logistics, economic development, rail, transit, waterways, advanced mobility and partners in everything from the environment to broadband reach to the electrical grid. I am proudest of simply being a part of it.

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