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In the C-Suite: Nicole Majeski; Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary

Katie Tabeling
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DOVER Like many Delawarean leaders, Nicole Majeski has spent a year in various public service roles, but her journey to the Department of Transportation Secretary started with one singular goal in mind.

“I was going to be a lawyer and law school was the plan,” Majeski said. “But by the time I reached the end of my junior year, I was a little burned out. I started to think maybe it wasn’t for me.”

Nicole Majeski

From there, the University of Delaware student from southeastern Pennsylvania switched courses to a political science major to have “more diverse options” for the future. But looking back, that future may have been set by the next early career move she made: interning for then-Gov. Tom Carper’s U.S. Senate race.

“He’s one of the greatest public servants that the state has in my opinion,” she said. “As a UD student, I fell in love with Delaware because it was hours from the beach and it was centrally located. But I got to see the connection [Carper] was making with the people, hearing the issues and watching him push to make a change, that was when I fell in love with public service.”

When Carper was elected to the Senate, Majeski’s budding career in Delaware politics and public service was launched. She began working in Carper’s constituent services offices, fielding calls from voters and trying to help solve them the best she could. After that, she interned with the Delaware Democratic Party and eventually worked her way up the ladder to become its executive director.

While Majeski could have remained one of the top party leaders, her path once again changed when she met Chris Coons while he was running for New Castle County executive. They quickly hit it off. When Coons won in 2004, she joined his administration as his eventual chief of staff, overseeing his strong land use agenda.

“It’s funny, back then we started looking at southern New Castle County and thought ‘Where do we want development to occur and where do we want to preserve farmland?’ You want to have that economic development, good schools but also to balance that rural area,” she said. “We really wanted to transform how we thought about development.”

Fast forward to today, what became the Southern New Castle County Master Plan essentially serves as the framework for DelDOT’s Transportation Improvement District (TID). It allows for greater coordination between land planners and transportation to ensure the transportation system can support the proposed development.

“It’s kind of funny to see this as a recurring theme in my career starting in 2005 to today,” Majeski said.

She found herself working closely with DelDOT while working on Coons’ initiatives, and eventually that work led to another opportunity to join the department. Throughout it all, she can’t exactly pinpoint a moment or project that really solidified her path. But it’s the knowledge that each ordinance passed or each policy decision has an impact on the lives of thousands of Delawareans.

“Honestly, the best part is making a difference. When I worked for the New Castle County government, you could really see the direct impact your work had on improving the quality of life, whether it’s through the library system or creating communities through land use decisions,” Majeski said. “That’s really my driving force. From a transportation standpoint, it really has an impact because everyone is our customer.”

Now as DelDOT secretary, Majeski is in charge of one of the largest state departments, with 2,500 employees and 90% of the state’s transportation network. She also oversees a six-year, $4 billion capital improvement program, and one of her top goals is to get projects out the door in creative ways, while also designing them in a way to maximize commuter safety.

“Safety is always going to be our No. 1 priority, whether it’s our employees or the traveling public,” she said. “There’s an education and enforcement piece, but there’s also the design piece. We’re going to be looking for innovative ways to design roads to keep people safer.”

People may be surprised by the sheer amount of technology DelDOT now has at its disposal, from the smartphone app with a trove of data available to the public, electronic tolling at U.S. Route 301, online DMV services to even testing self-driving DART shuttles.

Majeski is also inheriting what her predecessor, Jennifer Cohan, called “the mother of all projects”: the $200 million Interstate 95 reconstruction project through Wilmington known as Restore the Corridor. While she concedes that it may be the largest capital project she will oversee in her tenure, it won’t necessarily be the most important one.

“There’s so much work that’s happening, including the Route 24 corridor, and we have plans for the Route 113 corridor,” she said.

Reflecting on her journey, Majeski said was never one to have a set plan. But perhaps keeping herself open to whatever opportunities that came her way led her to where she stands today.

“If someone at UD had told me I was going to be the next DelDOT Secretary I would have been like, ‘That’s a thing?” she said with a laugh. “I was never one to set a five-year plan, but it’s always been my philosophy to take risks and not be so set in a plan. If you’re so focused on a plan, you can miss what chances there are for you.”


 

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