THEA CEO, Joe Waggoner, Retires From 40-Year Transportation Career

Driven to Make a Difference

For the past 14 years, Joe Waggoner has served as Executive Director/CEO of THEA, positioning our dynamic agency as a regional transportation leader offering innovative mobility solutions to the Tampa Bay community. 

When Joe came to Tampa Bay from Maryland in 2007, the agency was recovering from a major construction setback, leadership departures, and state-ordered policy and procedure changes. The agency was more of a caretaker of its assets, with state agencies collecting tolls, maintaining the Expressway, and issuing bonds.

For the first five years of his tenure, Joe focused on meeting key performance measures for toll authorities. Along with THEA’s dedicated staff and Board of Directors, Joe worked diligently on major overhauls and process improvements to obtain full independence, culminating in fee-simple ownership of the Selmon Expressway in 2012. In addition, under Joe’s leadership, the agency was able to recoup its costs from the REL construction delay.

The efficiencies created when THEA took over its own maintenance and operations, toll collection, and bond issuance have allowed the agency to take on more leading-edge challenges for the last nine years. 

In 2010, Joe made the then-risky decision to implement All Electronic Tolling on the entire Selmon Expressway system, making it the first expressway in Florida to be entirely electronic. This move saved millions in toll operational costs and, more importantly, gave THEA the ability to audit its tolling operations and service its customers directly.

While working to ensure THEA’s future as a mobility provider, Joe looked for opportunities to become more involved with the community. In addition to several underpass improvement projects, Joe was a founding member of the Central Florida Chapter for the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) and he worked with the late, great Lee Roy Selmon to fund the Selmon S.T.E.M. Scholarship program. This program provides an opportunity for middle and high school students to enter the world of bridge-building with the University of South Florida (USF) College of Engineering’s Bridge Building Competition. The program also provides USF students with monetary scholarships for books and paid internship opportunities at THEA. 

As a community champion, Joe is a pivotal leader in partnerships for multimodal transportation, transit-oriented development, and walkable neighborhoods. The Selmon Greenway accommodates pedestrians and cyclists – mostly in the shade of the expressway – and connects Tampa’s Riverwalk to Ybor City. Pocket parks line the Greenway with public art commissioned by THEA, places to sit, and landscaping to enjoy. The first of these pocket parks was the Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park.  

In 2015, THEA was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement a $22 million Connected Vehicle Pilot project that allows vehicles and infrastructure to communicate for delivery of a safer and more efficient travel experience for all modes of travel. That project was inducted into the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) World Congress Hall of Fame as the 2019 Americas Winner. Joe has continued to be a proponent of growing the automated, connected, electronic, and shared (ACES) mobility side of THEA and has led the team to garner cutting-edge grants, collaborations, and projects to explore forward-thinking concepts for Tampa Bay. As an early adopter of potential mobility solutions, the Selmon Expressway has been a testbed for automated vehicles.

From numerous capacity and safety improvements on the Selmon Expressway to helping to build Tampa’s street grid network in the evolving Channel District, Joe has been instrumental in THEA’s efforts to enhance regional mobility. Projects are underway to help Tampa reach its Vision Zero goals to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, equitable mobility for all. THEA’s commitment to giving back is cemented, with community involvement in everything from beautification and economic development to education.  

For an agency whose most substantial product is saving people time, the Selmon network provides a valuable resource in the community. With the opening of the Selmon West Extension, THEA offered a time-saving value for drivers, upheld its promises to local businesses along the Gandy corridor, and created regional connectivity between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Innovative design-build solutions created an iconic bridge that is a gateway to and from these counties and gives “pass-through” traffic a smooth, direct route with a noted traffic reduction of 40% on Gandy Boulevard.

Joe’s sound fiscal leadership strategies have helped the agency to become a top-ranked credit performer. During his tenure, THEA has risen three steps on national bond rating scales. This achievement has placed THEA in a sound financial position to deliver over $1.2 billion worth of capital improvements to the Selmon Expressway over the next 10 years.  

Joe has built a legacy of organizational leadership, fiscal acumen, and mobility innovation throughout his distinguished career. With his leadership, Joe refined THEA into an agency that is committed to implementing the best technology and progressive concepts possible to address mobility challenges. As THEA plans for a promising future, we are grateful for Joe’s steady and sensible leadership that has dramatically enhanced mobility for the better throughout Tampa Bay.