Former transportation chief Kam Movassaghi, who grew up in Iran and arrived in Louisiana at age 19, was inducted Wednesday into the transportation Hall of Honor, mostly for his role in accelerating the state’s largest road and bridge construction program.
“Madame secretary, you have made an old colleague’s day,” Movassaghi told Sherri LeBas, the secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development during a 40-minute ceremony.
Movassaghi was secretary under former Gov. Mike Foster from 1998-2004, and often called for tax hikes that Foster was lukewarm about.
“He was a straight shooter,” Foster said Wednesday.
Foster and others said what was most noteworthy was Movassaghi’s role in 2002 in speeding work on a statewide, $5.2 billion road and bridge program of 16 projects — called TIMED — that voters approved in 1989.
Under the change, the list of projects went from pay-as-you-go over 30 years to a 10-year effort for most of the work.
That included construction of the John James Audubon Bridge that links New Roads and St. Francisville and the widening of the Huey P. Long Bridge in Jefferson Parish.
“He was able to bond it out,” Foster said. “It has really saved the state.”
The Hall of Honor was set up in 1974 to recognize officials who made extraordinary contributions to the state’s transportation system.
Movassaghi is its 44th member, and the first since 2007, in a group that includes Huey P. Long, Jimmie Davis and Hale Boggs.
Those recognized are picked by six groups, including DOTD, the Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association and the Louisiana Engineering Society.
Pictures of the honorees are on the wall of DOTD’s lobby.
Movassaghi grew up in Tehran and arrived in the United States on a trip that included a bus ride from Iran to Turkey, a ride on the Orient Express railroad from Istanbul to Munich, a ship from Germany to New York and another train from New York to Lafayette.
In 1963 he got a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and his master’s and doctoral degrees from LSU.
Movassaghi is president of C.H. Fenstermaker & Associates, an engineering consulting firm in Lafayette.
Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon in Louisiana in state and federal taxes.
That includes 4 cents for the 16 TIMED projects — it stands for Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development — and another 16 cents for routine road and bridge building maintenance.
Without the TIMED projects, Foster said, the state would have had little in the way of major road projects in recent years.
The backlog of road and bridge needs totals about $12 billion, and a top DOTD official said last week that the figure may rise again.
John Basilica, who was DOTD undersecretary for Movassaghi, said his former boss brought expertise, energy and passion to the job, and enough credibility with the Legislature to speed work on the TIMED projects.
“It was a fun ride,” Basilica said.