ST. PAUL —Gov. Mark Dayton announced the appointment today of Charlie Zelle as Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) commissioner.
Zelle begins with MnDOT Jan. 15, succeeding former Commissioner Tom Sorel, who resigned Dec. 1 to become the CEO of AAA Minneapolis.
“Charlie Zelle’s outstanding record of innovation in the private sector will serve Minnesota well as we build a transportation system which will serve our needs and support our future growth and prosperity,” Dayton said. “I know that Mr. Zelle’s very successful business career and his strong commitment to public service will make him an outstanding commissioner of MnDOT at this important time.”
For more than 20 years, Zelle has served as president and CEO of Jefferson Lines, a Minneapolis-based transportation company providing travel services in 13 Midwest states. Jefferson Lines serves more than 60 Minnesota communities and specializes in connecting rural areas to destinations throughout North America.
As CEO, Zelle expanded Jefferson Lines, restored and sustained the company’s profitability through new measures of efficiency and growth and pioneered a national model for public rural transit.
Zelle also modernized the company’s bus fleet and developed a “College Connection” program that helps students get back and forth from home and school across five different states.
As MnDOT commissioner, Zelle will play no role in managing the daily business of Jefferson Lines, but will continue serving as chairman of the company’s board of directors and will recuse himself from handling any business between MnDOT and Jefferson Lines.
“It is a great honor to join the Dayton Administration in an area that is critically important to all Minnesotans,” Zelle said. “MnDOT has a strong reputation for innovation and I look forward to helping lead the agency as it plays an increasingly important role in advancing the state’s future prosperity through key investments in infrastructure.”
In addition to his professional work at Jefferson Lines, Zelle has volunteered his time on transportation policy and business issues in a variety of capacities. Zelle currently serves as the chairman of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Corridors of Opportunity Policy Board, and a member of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
This year he was appointed by Dayton to the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee (TFAC). As a founding member of the Itasca Project, Zelle is Co-Chair of the group’s Transportation Task Force. He is also a board member and chairman of the Policy Committee of the American Bus Association in Washington, D.C. Zelle also has served on the Executive Committee of the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) and chaired the American Bus Association.
For his exemplary work in transportation policy, Zelle has received the “George Rucker Award” by the Community Transportation Association in 2009 and the “Ray L. Lappegaard Distinguished Service Award by CTS in 2012.”
Zelle is also active in several philanthropic and volunteer organizations. He chairs the Board of the Jerome Foundation, an organization supporting emerging artists in Minnesota and New York City. Zelle has also served as president of the boards of the Minneapolis Club, Guthrie Theater, Meet Minneapolis and the St. Paul Academy. He was inducted into the Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine’s Twin Citian Volunteer Hall of Fame in 2002.
Born and raised in St. Paul, Zelle received a BA from Bates College and a MBA from the Yale Management School. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Julie, a minister, his daughter, Charlotte, 20, and his son, Nick, 17.