The chief executive of a major Minnesota-based bus company and a veteran state employee emerged Thursday as two finalists to lead the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Gov. Mark Dayton planned to interview the two men on Friday, a step in the process that makes their names public.
One finalist is Charlie Zelle, the president and chief executive officer of Jefferson Lines. The regional bus company operates in 13 states from North Dakota to Texas and has a sister charter company as well.
Zelle is a former investment banker who returned to Minnesota to run his family's company. He also serves as the chairman of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, giving him deep connections in the business community. He gained notice this summer for being among the Minnesota business executives to publicly advocate and contributing financially to the defeat of a constitutional amendment to permanently ban gay marriage.
The other finalist is Bernie Arseneau, the acting commissioner. He has worked at the department for three decades. An engineer, Arseneau took on a more visible role after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse by helping coordinate alternative traffic plans to compensate for the disruption of a key artery.
Arseneau has been at the helm since previous commissioner Tom Sorel resigned in November to take the top job at AAA Minneapolis.
The department maintains more than 12,000 miles of state highways, including nearly 5,000 bridges. It has a multibillion dollar annual budget for road construction, plowing and other maintenance. With hundreds of employees, it is among the biggest agencies in state government.
The new commissioner will find himself in the crosshairs immediately. A task force studying transportation financing recommended last month that the state gas tax and other fees rise by at least $50 billion more for roads and transit over the coming two decades to deal with an infrastructure backlog. Dayton hasn't embraced the proposal nor has he ruled it out.