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Bus company leader named Minn. transportation head

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota's new transportation commissioner is a Yale-trained businessman who has run his family's bus company for more than two decades.

Gov. Mark Dayton named Charlie Zelle on Wednesday to lead one of the state's largest and most important agencies. In a statement, the governor cited Zelle's "outstanding record of innovation in the private sector."

Zelle is president and chief executive of Jefferson Lines, a regional bus company that operates in 13 states from North Dakota to Texas. The company's website says it was founded in 1919, and Zelle is part of the third generation in his family to be active in the company.

Dayton's announcement cited Zelle's work expanding the company, modernizing its fleet and starting a program aimed at college students with a need to travel between home and school. Once Zelle begins work for the state in January, he'll no longer be involved in day-to-day business with Jefferson Lines and will recuse himself on any business between the state and the company, according to the announcement.

He'll remain on the company's board of directors.

Zelle's resume includes several transportation-related task forces, including Dayton's Transportation Finance Advisory Committee. That committee last month recommended raising gas taxes and other fees to generate at least $50 billion for roads and transit over the coming two decades to deal with infrastructure needs.

Dayton hasn't taken a position on the proposal.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation maintains more than 12,000 miles of state highways, including nearly 5,000 bridges. It has a multibillion dollar annual budget for road construction, plowing and other maintenance. With hundreds of employees, it is among the biggest agencies in state government.

Zelle's predecessor, Tom Sorel, resigned to become chief executive of AAA Minneapolis.

The other finalist for the job was acting commissioner Bernie Arseneau, a longtime engineer.

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