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Arkansas DOT Secretary Tudor Rises to the Challenge

by: Debra Wood
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor at the ribbon cutting of Hwy 82 in southern Arkansas.
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor at the ribbon cutting of Hwy 82 in southern Arkansas.
Arkansas DOT Director Lorie Tudor speaks at an Arkansas Asphalt Pavement Association event.
Arkansas DOT Director Lorie Tudor speaks at an Arkansas Asphalt Pavement Association event.
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor at a highway commission meeting.
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor at a highway commission meeting.
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor receives the Governor’s Quality Award.
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor receives the Governor’s Quality Award.
A long-term employee of the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT), Lorie Tudor now serves as director of the agency and has risen to the challenges facing those responsible for transportation infrastructure.

“At the end of most days, I feel I’ve made a difference,” Tudor says. “I’ve added value and insight, because I really understand the issues we face and can see solutions.”

A Culmination of Many Years
Tudor joined the department in 1981 as an entry-level clerk typist and worked her way up through the agency. That experience led her to resign in 1995 to return to school to study Civil Engineering. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering degree in 1997 from the University of Memphis, Tennessee, and returned to ARDOT.

“Engineering is an honorable career,” Tudor says. “I had gained much respect for the engineers I got to know and work with. I’m glad I chose engineering.”

Through the years, she had several people mentor her, and she is grateful for them. She worked in planning, research, and program management areas at ARDOT – including time as deputy director and chief operating officer, overseeing all operational activities.

“I have a good solid grasp on what is happening, what our challenges are and the direction we need to go,” Tudor says. “My whole career has been leading up to this moment.”

The Arkansas Highway Commission appointed Tudor to the top spot in February 2020. The department employs more than 3,700 people and operates on a $1.2 billion budget. Her history with the department has given her “the confidence to lead,” Tudor adds.

Tudor describes her leadership style as democratic and participative and appreciates her institutional knowledge.

“I like to bring in the people who know the most about the situation, ask their opinions and discuss it with them,” Tudor says. “I do not shirk from making the final decision. I want to make an informed decision in every decision I make.”

As a woman in a traditionally male field, Tudor says, “I have always had to work harder to gain respect. It helped me to set my goals really high and made me an overachiever.”

Although Tudor always strives for perfection, she recognizes that she “cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” She tends to be harder on herself than others have been to her.

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“One of my biggest accomplishments is forming a strong and capable administrative team, with a tremendous amount of integrity,” Tudor says. “I trust them completely. Any success I can boast about is due to my team. They have public-servant hearts and do what is best for Arkansas and road users. I know it’s the best advice I can get.”

Tudor worked with many of her administrative team members while holding other positions in the department. During those years, they developed trust in one another.

Being active in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has offered Tudor networking opportunities and to exchange information with leaders from other departments of transportation.

“AASHTO has created unique opportunities for collaboration,” Tudor says. “It’s an awesome forum for sharing knowledge.”

Transportation as an Economic Engine
“The big news and exciting news at ARDOT is the success of the Governor’s Long Term Highway Funding Plan,” Tudor says.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson presented a $300 million highway funding program in 2019 to help maintain existing roads and build new ones. Some monies started flowing in 2019.

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The rest of the funding starts in 2023. That will allow the department to improve 7,000 of the 16,400 miles of the Arkansas state highway network, which carries 90 percent of all traffic daily and repairing or replacing every structurally deficient or posted bridge in the state highway system. The governor’s office anticipates the plan will create about 3,900 jobs annually and generate $8 billion in economic activity.

“The transportation system is the backbone of the economy,” Tudor explains. “Our nation’s investment in transportation and infrastructure is tied to how well the economy will do.”

Transportation systems move crops from farms and goods from manufactures to consumers. “Adequate transportation infrastructure is what allows people to get to jobs and allow businesses to access wider pools of labor, suppliers, and customers,” Tudor says. “The ability to efficiently move freight will be critical to our economic recovery.”

ARDOT still depends on federal funding for fulfilling its plans. That revenue has been decreasing with more electric and energy-efficient vehicles.

“I am very hopeful and anticipate the passage of a robust, multiyear surface transportation bill next year and a sustainable solution to solvency of the Highway Trust Fund,” Tudor says.

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Voters also recognized the need for improving the state’s transportation infrastructure and approved by 55 percent a constitutional amendment to extend a half-cent sales tax, established in 2012 and set to end in 2023. ARDOT receives 70 percent of the tax, counties 15 percent, and cities 15 percent.

“The future is bright with much to do and much confidence in our team,” Tudor says. “We will be working hard to deliver the promises made to voters. We won’t let them down.”

Seventy-six percent of the money will be dedicated to system preservation of pavement and bridges. The balance will be invested in congestion relief and capital improvements.

“Congestion relief and capital projects will be good for the economy and quality of life,” Tudor says. “It resonated with voters.”

Tudor reports that citizens of the state recognized the progress that had been made during the temporary sales tax and wanted that to continue. ARDOT also outlined where the permanent funding will be spent.

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“It was a great victory for all Arkansans,” Tudor says. “Because it’s permanent, we can do long-range planning and have assurance the funding will be there to continue progress that was being made with the temporary tax.”

Tudor’s Priorities for the Department

Tudor also aims to meet or exceed the public’s expectations by making sure Arkansas’ roads and bridges are the best they can be.

“I want the department to embrace innovation, which has been a hallmark of progress in transportation,” Tudor adds. “Technology will be central to our efforts to improve safety, reduce congestion, and manage our infrastructure more effectively and efficiently.”

Tudor also plans innovations in the way the department delivers programs and projects to “improve all aspects of transportation system performance.” One innovation in program delivery, she adds, would be to create more accountability for achieving performance goals.

“Accountability, transparency and performance are what we need to build on for the future,” Tudor says. “Performance-based programs will provide the means to improve investment decisions, improve the performance of our transportation systems, and improve our stewardship of taxpayer dollars.” Tudor is committed to making the most of the available resources.

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Another of Tudor’s priorities for ARDOT is to make it an employer of choice, explaining that recruitment and retention of a good, solid workforce is a challenge, yet a career in transportation offers “opportunities to help your fellow man and for public service.”

Knowing “our employees are the backbone of our success,” Tudor says. “The department is committed to providing a competitive pay and benefits package and offer well-defined career paths. Our goal is that ARDOT provides every employee with the opportunity for personal growth and advancement.”

Tudor aims to get into the high schools to educate students about the wonderful opportunities in the transportation industry. She says students must start early, so they can take the necessary math classes in preparation for college engineering and technical coursework. “There is a huge need for engineers as well as other transportation professionals,” Tudor says.

Yet, many people do not know about the field or its benefits. That brings another Tudor priority – to get people excited about transportation, take pride in ARDOT, and celebrate infrastructure improvements that benefit their lives.

“We need to learn how to tell our story in a way that resonates,” Tudor says. “We want the public to understand infrastructure investment improves their lives.”

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Photos courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Transportation

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