Road Stories

Former DOT Commissioner Wayne Shackelford made a lasting impact on Georgia

At 74, Wayne Shackelford just won’t slow down. Immediately following his retirement from Geor-gia’s Department of Transportation (DOT), where he served as commissioner from November 1991 until May 2000, Shackelford became senior vice president for business development at Gresham, Smith and Partners, a firm providing planning, architecture, engineering and interior design services to national and international clients from 16 offices across the United States.

“My focus has been primarily on transportation issues as well as water and community development,” he says. “I thought I would retire about two years ago but they asked me to stay on. I thought about retiring again at the end of this year, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. I’ve always said I’d rather burn out than rust out.”

A sharecropper’s son from Haralson County, Shackelford worked his way through Berry College, earning his degree in Animal Sciences before heading to the University of Georgia for graduate school. Following military service from 1956 until 1958, Shackelford became assistant county agent in Haralson County. He transferred to Gwinnett County in 1960 and was promoted to county agent three years later, remaining in that post for the next decade.

“I’d planned to make that my career,” he says. Instead the Gwinnett County commissioners came calling, asking Shackelford, who knew both the land and the people of Gwinnett, to become the commission’s first executive assistant. “I made the change and found it a marvelous opportunity to serve,” he says.

During Shackelford’s tenure, 1973 through 1984, the county commission assessed and addressed infrastructure needs and modernized government systems, laying the groundwork for Gwinnett’s three decades of massive growth. Shackelford left the public sector in 1984 and worked for several land development companies until 1991 when then-governor Zell Miller tapped him to serve as commissioner of the Georgia DOT.

Shackelford administered a $1.6 billion annual budget and supervised the DOT’s 1,500-plus employees. He oversaw the department’s statewide preparations for the 1996 Summer Olympics and introduced such customer service innovations as High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) units, and the DOT’s online presence, NAVIGATOR.

Shackelford achieved the unique distinction of leading three major regional and national professional associations during his tenure with the DOT. In 1993 he was president of the Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; in 1995 he served as president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; and from May 1998 through April 1999, he served as chairman of the board of directors of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

Though he’s pleased with his legacy – which includes a newly constructed interchange linking I-85 and GA 316 in Gwinnett that is likely to bear his name – Shackelford is troubled that the state hasn’t vigorously pursued development of commuter rail lines.

Shackelford applauds outer counties, such as Cobb and Gwinnett, which have actively pushed public transportation as a way of dealing with Metro Atlanta’s infamous gridlock but chides, “As a nation we have not made the commitment to other modes of transportation. The long term cost of adding commuter rail is much less than adding highway lanes. But I’m committed to seeing that happen.”

One of Shackelford’s great passions has been assisting in personal development of youth through 4-H, an organization he’s been involved in since his own school days.

He is director emeritus on the 4-H Foundation of Georgia and chaired the successful 4-H Pledged for Life Campaign, which raised more than $4 million in private funds for Georgia 4-H. Shackelford was awarded the Legacy Award for Lifetime Achievement in March 2007, only the third recipient of the award in the organization’s history.

“I’m passionate about developing opportunities for young people to succeed,” he says. “I’ve always said you’ll never reach your potential if you don’t risk failure.”

Categories: Influential Georgians