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NEW YORK CITY-As the search for a permanent chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority gets underway, Helena Williams has been named interim executive director and CEO of the transit agency. President of the MTA’s Long Island Rail Road, Williams is temporarily replacing Elliot Sander as MTA head following Sander’s resignation earlier this month.

Williams was named to the interim post on Thursday by MTA chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger. Friday was the last day on the job for Sander, who agreed to resign after the State Legislature’s long-delayed passage of a bill to address the cash-strapped agency’s growing deficits.

“This is a time of transition at the MTA, but it is critical that we continue to serve our customers without missing a beat,” Hemmerdinger says in a statement. “Helena Williams is doing a terrific job at the Long Island Rail Road and will be an excellent steward for the entire transit system until a new chairman and CEO is appointed.”

GlobeSt.com reported in early May that Gov. David Paterson is revamping the MTA’s governance, combining the responsibilities of executive director/CEO and chairman into one job. Hemmerdinger, president of Alco Properties and Management, is himself leaving his unpaid position as MTA chairman next month to allow the governor to start with a clean slate.

In a statement, Williams says she will remain LIRR president while serving as interim MTA head. “As we all know, the subway, bus, bridge, tunnel and commuter rail systems are the lifeblood of our city and of the entire New York metropolitan region,” Williams says in the statement. “I’ve spent much of my career at the MTA, so this will be an exciting challenge.”

Williams’ interim appointment must be voted on by MTA’s board, which will hold its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday. The permanent chairman and CEO must be confirmed by the State Senate, which is recessing for the summer in June and therefore may not vote on the matter until next fall. Williams has reportedly said she is not interested in serving as MTA head beyond her interim appointment.

Last week, MTA’s capital construction committee said the long-delayed Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan would be completed in 2014, some seven years behind the original schedule. The final cost is projected at $1.4 billion, nearly twice the original estimate of $750 million.

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