Though MARTA's reputation has improved dramatically in recent years, the new CEO faces a slew of challenges, including implementing those transit expansions, shepherding new bus rapid transit lines and guiding the agency through possible expansions into Gwinnett County and elsewhere. He also must ensure MARTA operations run smoothly during next year's Super Bowl – something that seems less than assured after hundreds of passengers were stranded at Five Points Station following the college football national championship game in January.
MARTA CEO Robbie Ashe said Parker is up to the job. He said the board chose him for his mix of private- and public-sector experience – a mix Ashe said will come in handy as the agency expands.
“He has seen MARTA from both the inside and the outside,” Ashe said. “We are highly confident that he has the wherewithal to be our next great general manager.”
Parker has more than 25 years of transportation leadership experience. He spent 13 years at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston, rising to oversee its operations control center and training department.
He spent two years as a systems engineer and project manager at Parsons Corporation before returning to MBTA, where he rose to director of subway operations and rail vehicle engineering.
In 2005 he joined MARTA, where he oversaw its rail, bus and paratransit services. He left in 2008 to become deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Later, he became commissioner, overseeing the state’s public transportation, highway, bridge, aviation and port operations.
In 2011, Parker joined HNTB, first as associate vice president of its northeast division and – later that year – as the vice president over Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. He oversaw an expansion of its Atlanta office that nearly tripled revenue in six years.
In recent years, HNTB has consulted on some of metro Atlanta's biggest transportation projects, including the Northwest Corridor express lanes in Cobb and Cherokee counties and reconstruction of the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange and the development of a Fulton County transit plan. Two years ago, the firm reported that a MARTA expansion could yield an economic impact of $5.2 billion.
Parker’s hiring got a warm reception among key state lawmakers.
“This is an excellent choice,” said Sen. Brandon Beach, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “He’ll build upon what Keith Parker did. He’s a good administrator and he’s a smart guy.”
House Transportation Committee Chairman Kevin Tanner also spoke highly of Parker. Tanner said he’s confident Parker will “continue to build on the solid foundation that has been laid by Chair Robbie Ashe, former CEO Keith Parker and the entire MARTA Board and staff.”
Parker's hiring won't be official for at least two weeks. The board plans to hold a special meeting to formally offer him the job. Details of his employment - including when he will start and how much he will earn - remain to be worked out.
One hurdle Parker will have to clear: He must divest himself of any financial interest in HNTB to comply with ethics requirements because the company does business with MARTA. Ashe said Parker has agreed to do that.
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