Executive Director of the California Transportation Commission: Who Is Will Kempton?

Friday, February 20, 2015
Will Kempton

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s old transportation director is back in state government.

Will Kempton has shuttled between public and private positions in transportation, public service and government affairs for 40 years. His return to the public sector as executive director of the California Transportation Commission (CTC) in January followed a three-year stint, with the same title, at the nonprofit advocacy group Transportation California.

Kempton reports to the 11-member commission, which is responsible for providing programming and funding of several billion dollars annually for highway and rail transportation projects in partnership with regional transportation agencies and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The commission also advises the secretary of the California State Transportation Agency and the state Legislature on key transportation policy matters.  

Kempton, of Folsom, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of San Francisco. He went to work for Caltrans in 1976 and held a number of positions, including assistant director of legislative and congressional affairs.

Kempton moved from state to local government in 1985 as executive director of the Santa Clara County Traffic Authority (VTA), an independent special-purpose district where he managed its billion-dollar highway construction program.

Kempton left in 1992 to become a partner in Smith, Kempton & Watts, a Sacramento transportation consulting firm. He returned to the public sector 10 years later as assistant city manager of Folsom. That’s where Governor Schwarzenegger found him in 2004.

Kempton was director of Caltrans for five difficult years, suffering through furloughs and threats to employee compensation. “Five percent you can live with; 10 percent, ouch; 15 percent, that’s really hard to live with,” he told a writer for an internal employee newsletter in his final days at the agency. He acknowledged he wasn’t leaving under the best of conditions. “The public needs to understand that you can’t just take three productive days away and have things stay as usual.”  

Kempton moved from state to local government at the end of Schwarzenegger’s tenure. He was hired as chief executive officer of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession. The publication Mass Transit called it “the worst economic period in the agency’s history” and noted, “He guided OCTA through difficult service reductions.”

Kempton was named executive director of Transportation California in November 2012 and started work there after leaving OC in February 2013. He led the group’s push for a ballot initiative, “California Road Repairs Act of 2014,” which would have more than doubled the vehicle license fee by 2018. But they dropped the effort in January 2014, citing the rotten economy’s impact on voters and the recent passage of temporary income and sales taxes. 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

State Transportation Commission Names New Exec Director (Santa Clarita Valley News)

Governor Schwarzenegger Appoints Will Kempton Director of the Department of Transportation (California Office of the Governor)

California Has a New Infrastructure Advocate (Governing)

OCTA CEO Will Kempton Announces Retirement (Orange County Transportation Authority)

Will Kempton (Linked In)

Mr. Will Kempton (USA Week)

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