Francis B. (Frank) Francois, a former long-time leader of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, died Feb. 17 in Chicago, according to AASHTO. He was 87.
Francois (pronounced FRANK-oyz) became AASHTO’s executive director in 1980. He retired in 1999.
During those years, he was an important player in the Washington, D.C., debates over transportation policy. He helped marshal state departments of transportation activities to push for several major highway and transit bills, capped by the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, or TEA-21.
Francois succinctly described the crucial points in surface transportation legislation. According to an April 1991 ENR story, he said, "There are three key issues in any highway or transit bill: How much, who gets it and how do we use it?"
Stephen E. Sandherr, the Associated General Contractors of America’s president and chief executive officer, said in an emailed statement, “Frank did a great job of encouraging increased collaboration between state transportation officials and the construction industry to advance infrastructure investment, as well as developing methods to deliver the product safely and efficiently.”
According to AASHTO, Francois “reasserted the association as the premier technical organization for adopting and issuing highway standards and specifications.”
In an obituary in its AASHTO Journal newsletter, the association added, “He also strengthened its role with respect to setting national transportation policy for all modes and further cultivated its involvement in international activities.”
Francois was born in Iowa and after graduating from Iowa State University with a degree in engineering, he became a patent examiner with the U.S. Patent Office, according to a biographical sketch by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE).
He graduated from George Washington University law school, after taking courses at night. Francois was patent and trademark law specialist with a Washington, D.C., firm from 1962 to 1980, ITE said.
For many years, Francois also was active in politics in suburban Prince George’s County, Md., including a 10-year stint on the county council. In that role, he was a Prince George’s representative on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board.
In the national arena, Francois was president of the National Association of Regional Councils from 1972 to 1973 and of the National Association of Counties from 1979-1980.
On his retirement, AASHTO established the Francis B. Francois award, which annually recognizes state departments of transportation for innovative projects.
Among his many accolades, Francois was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1999. The institute in 2002 named Francois an honorary member, which it calls its “highest recognition of notable and outstanding professional achievement.” In 2007, he received the Transportation Research Board’s Frank Turner medal in 2007, for lifetime achievement in transportation.
AASHTO said that in his application letter for the executive director's job, Francois wrote: “Never before in history has transportation been more important than in the America of the late 20th century. Our economy, our life-style, the design of our urban and rural areas, and indeed our very survival as a modern nation are all dependent on us having a good transportation system.”