2019 40 Under 40: Zoe E. Keller

Sept. 13, 2019
Zoe E. Keller, Transit Operating Project Manager & Acting Transit Procurement Specialist, Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT)
  • Alma Mater: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Favorite book: “Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Netter, Witch” by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
  • Favorite TV show: “The Office” 
  • Favorite hobby(s): Reading, adventuring with my five-year old 
  • Fun fact about yourself: My son, Avery, loves transit. He learned the word “articulated” when he was three, and they’re still his favorite kind of bus. He actually requests that we take the bus or train rather than driving. 
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): Chicago Transit Authority’s Washington Blue Line station. It’s located conveniently in the basement of my office building, which is especially great during the winter. 
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): Champaign-Urbana MTD’s 22 Illini route. So much nostalgia! 

Zoe E. Keller started as an intern at the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) in 2014 before being hired full time in 2015 as a transportation planner.

In her role of transportation planner, Keller also served as the human services transportation coordinator and program compliance oversight monitor (PCOM), where she worked on better service for the 12-county region, and focused on better accessibility, affordability and availability of services. She also created efficiencies to reduce duplicate service, and focused on communication between the different providers and the customers by facilitating meetings. 

In her duties as PCOM, she oversaw the operations of the Champaign County Area Rural Transportation System. One of her greatest accomplishments as the PCOM was the implementation of a deviated fixed route and express route in Rantoul, Ill. to create a more efficient service. She worked with the mayor and village officials on implementing the service.  

In addition, the village was willing to provide $110,000 in funding. The express route was named the Eagle Express and operates between Rantoul and Champaign during peak hours and off-peak service is demand/response. This service stops at two major transfer hubs for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, as well as both a major hospital and a shopping mall. When the service started two and a half years ago, there were 500 trips per month. Current ridership is 1,700 trips per month and growing.       

She joined the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Office of Intermodal Project Implementation in the Bureau of Transit Operations as a project manager in February 2018.  She also is helping out in the Consolidated Vehicle Procurement Program (CVP). When the CVP section chief left this past February, Keller volunteered to help out in the CVP section. She has also taken control of applying for the Federal Funding of Vehicles.

“I find this job extremely satisfying because there is always a challenge. Providing technical assistance to grant recipients brings in a constant stream of scenarios that require you to think outside the box.”

“When IDOT’s Consolidated Vehicle Procurement (CVP) Section Chief left in February, I was asked to manage the program. Having had very little training or guidance, I am proud of the things I’ve accomplished over the last six months. I’ve completed three FTA grant applications totaling $20 million, awarded 344 vehicles, learned a lot about the intricate production process for paratransit vehicles, ventured into the world of procurement, and weathered some unforeseen bumps in the road.”

“There are so many factors in this business that we have little to no control over, but the one thing we can always do is foster an honest dialogue between our partner agencies. Sometimes we have to deliver bad news, and it’s easier hearing it from someone that you trust and have a positive relationship with.”