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Fed official named Minnesota transportation chief

ST. PAUL - A federal highway administrator awarded for his work following the Minneapolis bridge collapse becomes Minnesota's new transportation commissioner a week from today.

ST. PAUL - A federal highway administrator awarded for his work following the Minneapolis bridge collapse becomes Minnesota's new transportation commissioner a week from today.

Tom Sorel has spent three years as head of the Minnesota Federal Highway Administration office. Senators probably will confirm the 51-year-old Upstate New York native as commissioner, Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty this morning appointed Sorel to the post, saying the commissioner appointee has 30 years of transportation experience and a civil engineering background. Sorel may be the first engineer to lead the Minnesota Department of Transportation since the 1980s.

Sorel's appointment brings to a close a divisive time in Minnesota transportation. Murphy and other Democrats did not like Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau as commissioner, and earlier this year senators removed her from the transportation job.

Murphy, the Senate transportation chairman, said he does not know Sorel well, but he likes that he saw in the appointee Monday.

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Pawlenty named Molnau as his transportation commissioner soon after the pair was elected in 2002. She had been a lightning rod for Democratic criticism since taking office, but it grew worse after a state bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in Minneapolis Aug. 1.

Molnau was the first lieutenant governor in state history to also hold a commissioner's job. While commissioner, she took the lower paid given to people in that position, not the higher lieutenant governor pay.

Molnau's assistant, Bob McFarlin, filled in since she left. He was one of three finalists for the job and Pawlenty urged Sorel to keep him on staff.

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