After nearly 27 years on the board that governs transportation in Georgia, Columbus resident Sam Wellborn said on Friday he will retire effective Monday.
Welborn’s surprise announcement came 15 months after he was elected to an unprecedented sixth term on the 14-member Georgia Board of Transportation.
“I always knew I would know when the time came for me to step aside,” Wellborn said Friday morning. “That time is now. Yes, I was re-elected a year and half ago for another five years. I told myself then I probably would not serve the full term. My greatest fear has been staying too long. I have seen so many in the past stay too long. It is time for somebody else to take my place.”
Wellborn, 76, is the longest serving member of the board and a retired president of Columbus Bank & Trust Co. The seat Wellborn is vacating has been held by a Columbus banker for nearly a half century. Wellborn replaced Frank Morast Jr., who was president of Trust Company of Columbus. Morast, who died in 1991, held the slot for two decades.
The Board of Transportation oversees a state agency with a $3.4 billion annual budget and more than 3,500 employees. The DOT board is elected by the General Assembly members who represent the state’s 14 congressional districts. The DOT member must reside in the congressional district he or she represents. Wellborn represented the Third District.
The board has been embroiled in controversy in recent weeks over a series of meetings on a personnel matter that some members — who were not involved in the meetings — have said violated Georgia’s Open Meetings laws. Wellborn participated in one of the meetings and said a quorum was not present.
“I knew that would come up when I decided to step aside,” Wellborn said. “It had nothing to do with my decision. You can think that if want to, but it had nothing to do with it.”
Wellborn also said the sudden retirement is not health related.
“I am fine and in as good a shape as I can be at 76 years old,” he said.
As Wellborn exits, he points to three projects that he is most proud of.
The first in the designation of Interstate 185 from LaGrange to Columbus as a scenic byway. He gave credit to Keep Columbus Beautiful Director Gloria Weston-Smart for her work on the project.
“Because of the work we did, there will never be a billboard on that section of 185,” Wellborn said. “It will always be beautiful and it will literally take an act of Congress to put a billboard up on that 41-mile stretch.”
Wellborn also pointed to the I-185 entrance onto Fort Benning and the work that was done with Columbus developer and businessman John Flournory to create the gateway.
“It turned out to be an incredible testament to our soldiers,” Wellborn said. “That project was international in scope and gained a lot of national recognition.”
The final project was the 14th Street pedestrian bridge that is named for former Columbus Mayor Frank Martin.
“It was going to be torn down,” Wellborn said. “I prevailed on DOT not to tear down and give us money they were going to spend to tear it down, which was about $6 million. Using that money and money from other sources, we were able to save the bridge and create a wonderful link between the two cities.”
Pete Robinson, a Columbus resident who is now the Atlanta managing partner of Troutman Sanders LLP, was one of then Gov. Zell Miller’s floor leaders in the state Senate when Wellborn was elected to the DOT board.
“Sam has served Georgia and our district with a community-first agenda,” Robinson said. “He has always listened to community interests and always been faithful to those community interests. If there were a narrative of Columbus’ development and redevelopment over the last 27 years, the name Sam Wellborn would be on every page. He will be sorely missed.”