The head of California's Department of Transportation, who led a spirited campaign to preserve the state's gas tax hike and fix its roads, will step down at the end of June.

Caltrans executive director Laurie Berman announced her retirement to employees this week in a letter that was obtained by The Chronicle. She's departing the agency in a period of reconstruction, as the state grapples with dilapidated roads and highways and a $137 billion maintenance backlog.

In her letter, Berman commended her colleagues for maintaining a massive transportation system, responding to disasters, and facing the urgency of climate change and new technology head-on. But she mostly emphasized the personal dimensions of the job.

"I have loved everything about the past 36 years, from my very first assignment as a bridge inspector working on the Wheeler Ridge truck weighing station outside of Bakersfield to my very last assignment as director — it has been quite a ride," she wrote.

Though Berman worked at the agency for decades, her tenure as chief was relatively short. She was picked last year by former Gov. Jerry Brown, and her last day on the job is June 29.

She's heading out the door as Gov. Gavin Newsom's first transportation appointees walk in. Last month, the new governor named David Kim secretary of the California State Transportation Agency. Kim's predecessor, Brian Annis, will now serve as chief financial officer for the California High Speed Rail Authority.

These leadership changes come as Newsom slowly rolls out a new transportation agenda for the state. In his first State of the State speech, the governor pledged to focus on a shortened Central Valley segment of Brown's high-speed rail project — from Merced to Bakersfield — though he's since said he's open to a longer line. The project is in limbo after President Trump canceled $1 billion in funds earlier this month.

California finally has money to start repairing roads and bridges, owing to a gas tax hike that legislators approved two years ago. It survived a contentious and closely watched repeal effort last year.

With that new funding in place, the agency started a building and maintenance spree. It's finished 95 projects so far and has an additional 430 projects in the works, said spokeswoman Lindsey Hart.

(c)2019 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.