Santa Clara County transit leader Nuria Fernandez joins Biden administration
Nuria Fernandez, VTA CEO, waves out of a cable car at a news conference celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Women's Right to Vote this past August. Before President-elect Joe Biden named Pete Buttigieg to be his transportation secretary, some women and transportation leaders touted Fernandez for the role. Photo courtesy of Brandi Childress.

    Santa Clara County’s own Nuria Fernandez resigned from the Valley Transportation Authority today to serve in the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Biden-Harris administration.

    “Now I will be stepping into a national role that is bigger and broader yet will have profound impacts at the local level,” Fernandez, VTA’s CEO and general manager, said in a Jan. 19 resignation letter obtained by San José Spotlight. “It is an opportunity of a lifetime and I am excited for what the future holds. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of building a network of mobility solutions to keep our county and the region moving forward.”

    Her role in the Biden-Harris administration’s Transportation Department has not yet been disclosed. Sources close to Fernandez say she will head the Federal Transit Administration. DOT will announce the appointment in the coming days, according to a VTA spokesperson.

    VTA general counsel Evelynn Tran will serve as interim general manager and CEO while VTA conducts a national search to replace Fernandez.

    “While we are sad that Nuria is leaving VTA, we are happy for her opportunity to go and work with the department of transportation,” said VTA chair Glenn Hendricks. He said VTA has a strong senior staff that will be able to effectively lead the organization through this transition.

    San José Spotlight reported in December that Fernandez was touted for a spot in Biden’s administration by transportation leaders, a national lobbying group and a coalition of Black women leaders and transit advocates.

    Longtime Silicon Valley transit leader Rod Diridon said Fernandez is “extremely well-prepared” for the job and is skilled at working with divergent points of view.

    “She pulls people together and hammers out a course of action that everyone can follow and she is extremely dedicated,” Diridon said. “She is absolutely determined to accomplish objectives that are good for humanity.”

    Fernandez has had a busy 35-year transit career serving in leadership positions at the nation’s top transit agencies including the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Fernandez also oversaw O’Hare and Midway airports as commissioner for the Chicago Department of Aviation.

    “She’s bubbling like a teenager,” Diridon said. “This job for her is a perfect fit. She knows federal transit law upside down and backwards. She’s administered it in the past.”

    Diridon said Fernandez was a final contender for secretary of transportation at the beginning of the Obama administration and during the Clinton administration, Fernandez also served as acting federal transit administrator.

    As VTA’s leader, Fernandez oversaw 2,100 employees and the $7 billion extension of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and rail services in Silicon Valley. She is also chair of the American Public Transportation Association, a national advocacy group for transit agencies.

    “It has been pure joy to lead the VTA organization for seven years, and I leave with great satisfaction that the Board of Directors will continue to guide the organization and its employees with confidence,” Fernandez wrote. “I can proudly say that Santa Clara County is being well served by a talented and dedicated VTA workforce, committed to advancing the vision, mission and goals of this organization for the benefit of all the communities it serves.”

    Mayor Sam Liccardo said he’s grateful for Fernandez’s work in enabling the BART extension — the largest public works project in county history — despite numerous obstacles.

    “I’m heartened to know that our President Biden can recognize talent and competence when he sees it, and Nuria Fernandez will leave big shoes to fill,” Liccardo said. “Her leadership has prodded the VTA to break out of conventional, rigid thinking, and she’s been a wonderfully collaborative and insightful colleague.”

    Lloyd Alaban contributed to this report.

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.


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