Inslee to consider new candidates for State Secretary of Transportation

WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond (left) and Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl. Image: Flickr/Oran Viriyincy

The Tacoma News Tribune reports Governor elect Jay Inslee has begun a national candidate search for top level cabinet positions including Secretary of Transportation. Current WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond has expressed interest in staying on and will be considered for the job among a new crop of transportation leaders.

Transportation Issues Daily speculates on the field of candidates, mentioning names both familiar and unfamiliar:

Rumor has it that one possible candidate of interest to the Inslee transition team, Joni Earl, has re-upped with Sound Transit…

Former state Representative Mike Armstrong is interested in the job, as detailed by Brad Shannon and Jordan Schrader of the Olympian. Another name that might surface is Carlos Braceros, Deputy Secretary of the Utah DOT. He supposedly was a top-shelf candidate when Hammond got the job. Braceros has helped UDOT become a leader in public private partnership projects and many other areas.

Consideration for WSDOT Secretary comes at a critical time for Montlake. The State is busy planning the Seattle SR-520 replacement project so that it is shovel ready when the $1.4 billion funding gap is secured — likely through a transportation package (promised during Inslee’s campaign) or by tolling I-90 (starting in 2016). Or both. The leader of WSDOT under Inslee will oversee the completion of the 520 megaproject, the first urban freeway built through a Seattle neighborhood in a generation.

Paula Hammond’s stewardship of the 520 project has been mixed. Recent praise for the 2012 Seattle Community Design Process has restored some faith for many who were dismayed by the State’s preferred alternative selection in 2011. Hammond’s leadership in creating a State bicycle-pedestrian plan should also be applauded, along with the regional trail on the new floating bridge.

However, as public feedback overwhelmingly pointed out during the 520 design process, the bicycle and pedestrian access around and over the new freeway is sorely lacking. Many, including this blog, feel the design makes walking and biking over 520 worse than it is today. As well, Montlake leaders working with the State during its consideration of replacement options were stunned to see WSDOT choose a preferred alternative that increases traffic congestion on Montlake Blvd. This legacy, now written into the State’s Final EIS, shows the new 520 will (at best) maintain traffic gridlock on Montlake Blvd:

Traffic conditions for the 520 preferred alternative vs other options. Image: SR-520 Final EIS, Section 5.1, page 41.

Projected traffic conditions for the preferred alternative at Montlake Blvd & Lake Washington Blvd versus other design options. The top table compares vehicles per hour (vph); the bottom table compares “LOS” (Level of Service, transportation speak for an A-F grading system). SR-520 Final EIS, Section 5.1, page 41 (2011).

That a $4+ billion highway replacement creates an “LOS F” for traffic on Montlake Blvd is a bitter pill for residents and commuters alike. That’s a lot of money to spend to only achieve a traffic failure. Furthermore, expecting bikes and pedestrians to fend for themselves in this mess was not a decision made on the watch of a progressive transportation leader.

Larry Ehl (Transportation Issues Daily editor), recently wrote on Crosscut for Inslee to keep Hammond as WSDOT Secretary. Among her accomplishments, Ehl (a former Hammond staffer) praises her as a nuts-and-bolts leader, adept in behind the scenes bureaucratic battles. Hammond’s recent Seattle Times editorial on maintaining the infrastructure we have speaks to these qualities. Ehl also counters Seattle Transit Blog’s call for more progressive leadership at WSDOT, arguing the agency’s legislative limits makes life difficult for “change-agents” like Hammond.

“Change-agents” aside, public attitudes toward building freeways through urban neighborhoods changed 5o years ago — and here we are today facing a new freeway, double in size, and reminiscent of the car-first 1960s. Inexplicably, its “landscaped lids” are used as off-ramps and its regional trail across the floating bridge doesn’t continue over Portage Bay to I-5, Eastlake and the booming Amazon campus in SLU. While there are positive signs that more attention will be given to people-first aspects as 520 design work continues in 2013, this effort is largely community driven and not directed from internal leadership at WSDOT.

Hammond’s influence over the 520 project has yet to bring positive change to the traffic-choked Montlake neighborhood. Whether or not the job position allows for such change is debatable. Hopefully Governor-elect Inslee’s progressive pedigree will give the next Transportation Secretary more leeway to build highways for people, not just cars.

2 thoughts on “Inslee to consider new candidates for State Secretary of Transportation

  1. You’ve missed the fact that although the 520 project is supposed to be a bus transit corridor, the current plan also eliminates the Montlake Flyer station, a well-used facility that has served transit riders for 40 years. It’s ludicrous that transit connections will actually get worse than they are today. And the buses that do stop on the lid will be stuck in the same Montlake Blvd congestion, as there isn’t a good bus lane design.

    While WS-DOT’s drawings show all kinds of trees, what the drawings really do is to obscure how much concrete is being built. Montlake Blvd will be 7 or more lanes wide! Most of the lid is, as you say roadway – up to 5 lanes of Lake Washington Blvd, up to 3 lanes of HOV ramp, 3+ lanes of westbound exit lanes.

  2. Pingback: News Roundup: Incredible - Seattle Transit Blog

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