Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will begin searching for a new transportation secretary after Bernard Cohen on Monday resigned from the post.

Cohen will leave the administration on Jan. 2 and is pursuing opportunities in the private sector, according to Klark Jessen, a spokesman for Cohen.

In his remaining weeks, the secretary will continue to work with officials on legislation that would terminate the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and fold parts of the system into other state agencies. MassPike carries roughly $2.2 billion of debt from the Big Dig project in Boston. The administration expects to file the proposal with the legislature in January.

Critics of the Patrick administration say that a plan to dismantle MassPike and reform transportation financing is long overdue. MassPike board members voted on a toll hike in fall 2007 in anticipation of the governor submitting a transportation plan in early 2008, according to board member Mary Connaughton.

"From my vantage point, [Cohen] is in the undesirable position of having enormous responsibility without commensurate authority," Connaughton said. "And having one's hands tied is a very difficult and frustrating position to be in when you want to accomplish something."

"I think that part of the problem with the transportation plan in Massachusetts shouldn't be blamed on [Cohen], it would be the inaction of [the governor] and I believe in his administration that should have been working together to build a reasonable plan to consolidate and reform transportation agencies in the commonwealth." she said.

There are rumors that Patrick may choose James Aloisi to replace Cohen as transportation secretary. Aloisi is partner at Goulston & Storrs PC and a member of the state's Transportation Finance Commission, which last year evaluated the state's transportation infrastructure needs and pegged those costs at $15 billion to $19 billion. Aloisi did not respond to requests for comment.

"I'm concerned because [Aloisi] was one of the ones who crafted the legislation in 1997 that had [MassPike] take on the Big Dig," Connaughton said. "And as a result of that, [the authority] got itself into incredible financial pressures and it's concerning that [Patrick] would put the person who helped create this mess in charge to clean it up."

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