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Temporary head of MassPike chosen

O'Meara directed Tobin Bridge

State Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen announced yesterday that Mary Jane O'Meara, who runs the Tobin Bridge for the Massachusetts Port Authority, will serve as acting executive director of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority while a search for a permanent leader continues.

Cohen, who takes over as chairman of the Turnpike Authority board on July 1, also said he would be seeking legislative approval to increase the salary for the permanent position from $140,000 to as much as $190,000 a year to attract more qualified candidates.

Cohen succeeds John Cogliano, transportation secretary under former Governor Mitt Romney, who took over chairmanship of the authority last year after Matthew J . Amorello was forced to resign in the wake of the Big Dig tunnel ceiling collapse. Amorello, who also oversaw the daily operations of the agency, made $225,000 a year. But a law that kicks in Sunday creates the new position of executive director, who will oversee the agency on a day-to-day basis for a salary of $140,000.

According to Cohen, the agency has been unable to find enough qualified applicants at that salary. He hopes lawmakers will let the Turnpike board offer a salary of between $160,000 and $190,000 a year.

Cohen said O'Meara's transition from Massport to the Turnpike Authority will be seamless.

"She is someone who has extensive experience dealing with tolling operations, facilities maintenance, and customers, which mirrors, albeit on a smaller scale, the core business responsibilities of the Turnpike Authority," Cohen said. "She has been exposed to all the issues that she will have to deal with as the acting executive director of the Turnpike. Whether it's union issues, community relations or press issues, she's dealt with them all."

She will remain on the Massport payroll, and the Turnpike Authority will reimburse Massport for her $140,000 a year salary, Cohen said. O'Meara will remain in the job for however long it takes the Turnpike Authority board to name a permanent executive director, he said.

Cohen said one of his first jobs will be to analyze the troubled transportation agency's finances.

"The governor has asked me to undertake a top-to-bottom review so we can understand the inflow of money and how the funds are expended, how we price Turnpike access, and really look at whether or not there are opportunities to generate additional revenues or to attain cost efficiencies," he said.

"There has already been some scrutiny of the Turnpike's books. We want to dust all of that off and go through it and see for ourselves what can be done to deal with some of the financial challenges."