LILBURN - When Kelli Long hits a pothole on a state highway or runs into a traffic snafu near her Lilburn home, she calls her husband - not just to commiserate, but to see if he can actually do something about it.
Her husband, Todd Long, is a longtime Georgia Department of Transportation engineer, recently named by the governor to the newly created political position of director of planning. He began the job last week.
"It's great he's able to be in this position," Kelli Long said. "He's a very dedicated person and I think he's going to do a great job."
Gridiron training ground
Long grew up in Hinesville and knew from a young age he wanted to be an engineer, following in the footsteps of an uncle.
In 1986, he became a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology and walked onto the football team, sitting on the bench as a center.
When coach Bill Curry stepped down, Long did too, but he was offered a full scholarship running the athletic department's study hall, a job usually reserved for a graduate student.
Not only did the gig pay for his tuition while he earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil engineering, but he got to work with stars like Sean Jones and Marco Coleman, who later won the national championship.
Georgia Tech was also where Long met his wife, who is a Parkview High graduate, and where she earned her industrial engineering degree.
After college, Long went to work for the DOT through a two-year internship program, then began his career in the state department's planning office, the same one where he recently took over the helm.
Later, he spent years in the DOT's Gainesville district office, serving as lead engineer of the district that includes Gwinnett. He even worked on the transformation of the Ga. Highway 316 and Interstate 85 interchange before transferring to the downtown office and later to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.
Long said he was honored to speak at a ceremony naming the interchange for former DOT Commissioner Wayne Shackelford, a Snellville man he considers a mentor.
Gwinnett officials said they support the local man in his new position.
"I think Todd's a great professional," Gwinnett DOT Director Brian Allen said. "We're excited about him being in the mix."
Rewriting the future
The political appointment was created this year in the Legislature as a compromise to give the governor more say in transportation policy, and Long was chosen for the position the same day the State Transportation Board picked a new commissioner, former state Rep. Vance Smith.
While Long will report directly to the governor, he is still a member of the DOT. It is a new system for the state, but Long said his college professor and mentor Mike Meyer held a similar position in Massachusetts.
"He said, 'Try to work well, hand-in-hand, with DOT. Don't let it become a combative situation,'" Long said, adding that he plans to take his professor's advice.
"It's a very unusual arrangement," he said.
As the director of planning, Long's job will be to create a statewide transportation plan - likely rewriting much of Georgia's current priority list - by the time the Legislature meets next year.
Kelli Long said she knows the job will mean time away from their four children, but she said her husband is good at balancing work and home life, coaching the kids in basketball, soccer and baseball through the years.
Besides, she knows her "Todd Todd" - a nickname she derived from a popular GPS device called a TomTom because of his ability to help her maneuver the roads - will do a good job.
"He knows these roads," she said. "Todd has always been very dedicated to whatever he's involved in, whether it's our family, our church or his career. He's a very focused person, but he cares for and respects the people he works with."
While Long maintains that his job is to plan the entire state's transportation program, he said he had a special affinity for officials in his county.
"I've worked with a lot of local governments and Gwinnett is one of the best," he said. "I look forward to working with them to plan their future. It's a huge part of Georgia."