Chairman of state transportation panel credited with aiding region's growth.

Medford attorney Stuart Foster stepped down abruptly Tuesday as chairman of the state transportation commission, which oversees billions of dollars in projects and programs.

"After nearly twelve and one half years on the Commission the time has come for new leadership, therefore, effective immediately I hereby resign from the Oregon Transportation Commission," he wrote in a letter to Gov. Ted Kulongoski. He offered no explanation in his letter nor to the Mail Tribune. His term was set to expire in June 2009.

In a statement released Wednesday, the governor praised Foster's leadership.

"For more than 12 years Stuart Foster has traveled to every corner of this state and understands the connections between economic vitality, livability and transportation," the statement read. "Under his leadership as chair, the Department of Transportation has delivered hundreds of projects on time and on budget, including the Oregon Transportation Improvement Acts and ConnectOregon projects."

The OTC comprises five citizen volunteers — appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate — who set policy directions and approve transportation funding decisions for the state.

The commission meets monthly to oversee ODOT activities relating to highways, public transportation, rail, transportation safety, motor carrier transportation and drivers and motor vehicles.

While the commission tends to be made up of commissioners representing different geographic regions of the state, the only requirements are that one member live east of the Cascade mountain range and no more than three belong to one political party.

Other commission members include Gail Achterman, Michael Nelson and Janice Wilson. Randall Papé stepped down in October for health reasons, said Patty Wentz, acting communications director for the governor's office. She said she did not know of any people interested in filling the two posts, but new members will be named when the Legislature convenes a special session in February.

Foster, 65, a partner with Foster Denman in Medford, has been a commissioner since 1995. He has served longer than any other commissioner except Glenn Jackson, who served for 20 years, said Patrick Cooney, spokesman for ODOT in Salem. Jackson also was from Medford. The commission, originally called the Highway Commission, was begun in 1913, said Cooney.

Mike Montero, Medford development consultant and co-chairman of the Rogue Valley Area Commission on Transportation, said Foster helped negotiate changes inside the department. He helped form regional transportation committees that give more emphasis to local decision-making, Montero said.

Montero added that Foster was able to communicate to the state the unique transportation needs of Southern Oregon.

"I think he deserves many kudos for the tireless years of dedication to the region," he said.

Mike Burrill Sr., past chairman of the Transportation Advocacy Committee (see correction below), made up of citizens and transportation officials in Jackson and Josephine counties, also praised Foster.

"Stuart has just done an amazing job of watching over rural Oregon," said Burrill. "Historically, the region where the chair comes from seems to do better ... as far as projects," he said.

The new north and south Medford interchanges and the upcoming Fern Valley Road interchange in Phoenix have all been funded under Foster's tenure.

"We've gotten a lot of good stuff down here," said Burrill.

Wentz said she did not know the reason behind Foster's sudden resignation, but said it's a volunteer job that involves a lot of time and travel. She said she was not aware of any difficulty between Foster and the governor's office.

Foster on Wednesday declined an interview and said he objected to the Mail Tribune's coverage of ODOT projects.

"I do not talk to the Mail Tribune," he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrected stated Mike Burrill Sr.'s position. This version has been corrected.