The state Department of Transportation director is leaving to return to the University of Hawaii, where he will help guide efforts to catch up on the Manoa campus’ maintenance and repair backlog, officials say.
Glenn Okimoto had served as the state’s top transportation official going back to 2010. He will serve as the administrative affairs program officer at UH, where he previously served as budget director, according to a statement from Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s office.
Abercrombie called Okimoto an "amazing leader" who, as DOT director, "laid a solid foundation for the department to build upon and improve our airports."
"Glenn wanted to return for his own reasons to UH," Abercrombie spokesman Justin Fujioka said Friday. A UH spokeswoman said those reasons were personal and that Okimoto looked forward to helping to fix and maintain the UH-Manoa campus.
He will be replaced by Ford Fuchigami, who will take over as DOT interim director. Fuchigami has served as DOT’s deputy director for airports since January 2011 and has helped oversee the $1.7 billion overhaul taking place at Honolulu Airport.
"Ford has done a tremendous job over the past three years as chief executive of the state’s airports system by collaborating with major stakeholders and partners," Abercrombie said.
Okimoto oversaw a host of road rehabilitation projects — many of them years overdue and dating back to before his tenure — including the ongoing repairs across the crumbling H-1 freeway. He further oversaw a record $500 million in construction and $869 million in projects put out to bid this year statewide, according to Abercrombie’s release.
Okimoto’s tenure also had its controversies. Last fall, following a devastating molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor caused by Matson Navigation Co., state transportation officials waited days to disclose that their workers had seen prior leaks at the spill site despite requests for that information by local media nearly two weeks prior.
DOT has also recently sparred with the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization over OMPO’s funding and the group’s role in long-term transportation planning for the island. The conflict, OMPO officials and local elected leaders say, could threaten as much as $15 million annually in federal highway dollars if not resolved.
Earlier this week the U.S. Department of Justice filed a discrimination suit against the state, alleging a former Airports Division employee had been wrongfully fired.
Okimoto will have his hands full at UH. Last year the university’s Board of Regents approved a construction freeze as repair and maintenance needs across all 10 campuses swelled to nearly half a billion dollars, with 84 percent of that on the flagship UH-Manoa campus.