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Why Inslee should retain the transportation secretary

Guest Opinion: A former staffer of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond makes the case for her holdover appointment.

Paula Hammond

Paula Hammond

Some of Governor-elect Jay Inslee’s allies want him to replace state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond with someone who will do more on climate change, bicycle-pedestrian and transit issues.  The Seattle Transit Blog has openly called for new leadership, and several environmental groups are privately advocating for new leadership. 

These three transportation issues are important for many communities across the state, but particularly Washington’s larger cities. More and more people want alternatives to driving -- for health, financial, or environmental reasons. I don’t begrudge advocates who are impatient for more progress on climate change, bike-pedestrian and transit issues.

But those people are using unrealistic metrics to measure Hammond and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). The state transportation department operates within legislative, regulatory and political limitations enacted formally or informally by the legislature, governor, and transportation stakeholders of various stripes. It’s not a system in which bold, disruptive initiatives can be achieved.

Yet Hammond has led WSDOT to impressive achievements in climate change, bike-pedestrian and transit issues. In fact compared to her counterparts around the country, and to most other Washington State agency directors, Hammond has been the disruptive change agent that Governor-elect Inslee wants to attract. You may not realize it, because Hammond isn’t a headline-seeking leader, and much of her work is the day-to-day bureaucratic infighting and policy development that doesn’t translate to news stories.  Here are just a few examples:

Transit: Hammond has fought for adding light rail on the I-90 floating bridge and the I-5 bridge in Vancouver. Her personal advocacy on passenger rail resulted in significant federal funding for service upgrades and expansion. WSDOT’s collaboration with King County Metro on SR 99 is producing thousands of additional hours of transit service. The agency’s follow-through on completing the central Puget Sound HOV network is paying big dividends for transit. WSDOT’s work in Commute Trip Reduction and vanpools is among national leaders.

Bike-pedestrian: Hammond fully participated in creating the state’s first "bike-ped" plan. Unlike some state plans which are mostly pretty pictures and aspirational words, WSDOT’s plan was action-oriented and included specific projects and goals. Earlier this year WSDOT recommended against diverting federal bike-ped funds which could have been flexed to road projects. The League of American Bicyclists ranked Washington as the #1 Bicycle Friendly State in 2012 and in 2011, stating that “Washington is the model for all other states on utilizing federal funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects.”

Climate change: Six years ago the agency won a national award from the Center for Environmental Excellence for “Best Organizational Integration of Context Sensitive Design.”  More recently The National Association of Environmental Professionals recognized WSDOT for detailing greenhouse gas estimates, energy use, and climate change effects of the proposed I-5 Columbia River Crossing project - work that exceeded minimum federal requirements. The agency was the first DOT in the nation to produce a Climate Impacts Vulnerability Assessment report to help others understand the possible risks to infrastructure. You read about it on WSDOT's website.

I could go on.

For WSDOT, this work is as much about ensuring the public gets a good return on its gas tax by designing and building transportation facilities that will last longer, have a reduced impact on the environment, and withstand the increasing number of 100-year storms so that communities and businesses can continue to function.

What dismays some transportation stakeholders is that Hammond also advocates for roads and spends too little time talking about bicycling and transit. They also accuse WSDOT of focusing too much on road expansion, and of lukewarm support for including bike-ped facilities in those projects.

The truth is that Hammond focuses WSDOT on road maintenance, preservation and safety projects, and on only a handful of road expansion projects which are critical to maintaining and growing the state’s economy. For better or worse (and many would say worse), highway expansion has not been the number one priority. And Hammond's actions simply mirror the direction given WSDOT by the Governor and Legislature.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 6:36 a.m. Inappropriate

No changes, four more years of Gregoire in the Inslee administration.

Cameron

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

A recommendation, or a complaint?

afreeman

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 8:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Simply the truth, Inslee is four more years of the same, no changes, no improvements, no progress. An Inslee Administration doesn't have a plan and isn't replacing any plans that are already in place. The self discribed "Disruptive Force" going to Olympia is going to be an expensive four year Joke on the taxpayers of Washington State.

Cameron

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 7:38 a.m. Inappropriate


Hammond has fought for adding light rail on the I-90 floating bridge . . ..

Any lawyers or judges read Crosscut? Let’s discuss whether or not WSDOT has the legal authority and right to transfer large parts of those I-90 corridor highway infrastructure elements to Sound Transit.

Here’s an essay that addresses some aspects of that issue:

http://kemperfreeman.webs.com/

The “Second Bogus Lawsuit” section of it starts out by describing the legal barriers WSDOT faces when it comes to that proposed infrastructure handover.

crossrip

Posted Sat, Dec 8, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

There are 30,000 WSBA members. The fact that none of them, even anonymously, will try addressing in this very public forum whether the proposed transfer by WSDOT of this highway infrastructure to Sound Transit for train use would be legal demonstrates it's a non-starter.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 8:32 a.m. Inappropriate

You write--
The truth is that Hammond focuses WSDOT on road maintenance, preservation and safety projects, and on only a handful of road expansion projects which are critical to maintaining and growing the state’s economy.

Well, that is true. Spends over half my road taxes on non-roads, and is a true friend of the "nanny state" and statism in general. Check how often passes are closed in the winter "just in case". Like the sheeples are too stoopid to assess risk, and make their own decision to go or not go.

Yes, Hammond knows who employs her, as she should, and carries out orders from above.

But, she is smart, personable, and is willing to engage this sheeple, so I can't trash her too much. The whole question of spending over 50% of road project money on transit and mosquito breeding ponds and such is not reasonable. I do too much sittin' on the freeway, while the Lexus Lanes--coming to a highway near you--are being built, and the HOV lane is so underutilized that travel time is LESS THAN half of the general purpose lanes.

Thanks, WSDOT for taking my money, and spending it for specious stuff and penalizing me because my work is not transit or carpool amenable.

That said, there are a ton of operatives working there that are great folks, and do a great job.

Paula, well, she is ok, but the whole anti-car thingy needs to be tamped down, and let the mosquito lobby pay for their breeding ponds. I wonder if the queen misquito is named Sandra Fluke, can't pay for her own stuff.........

The Geezer has spaketh.

Geezer

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 8:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Amen, Geezer! Well said.

mspat

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 8:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Given the consistent tenor of the first three comments, I hesitate to weigh in. But I will ...

Larry's take on the situation is right on, especially in comparing the job of a city transportation director versus a state transportation secretary.

I've worked with Paula Hammond the past six years, have found her straight-ahead, practical ... and as forward-looking and thoughtful about the long-term implications of today's decisions as a secretary can be, given the constraints of state and federal law.

Deb Eddy

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 7:19 a.m. Inappropriate

As Governor Inslee prepares to make his mark on transportation, he needs to be thinking about the future and select a Secretary who will shore up the entire transportation system: city streets, county roads, transit systems, rail of all sorts, rebuild old roads that pollute too much, and grow great communities where you don't need to drive everywhere all the time.

WSDOT's plans for the future ignore the big picture and focus on just the state's road system. Take a look at Gregoire's last transportation budget proposal if you want to know Hammond's priorities.

Governor Gregoire may have done more in her tenure to shore up the state highway system than any Governor since the 1970's. But she, along with Mary Margaret Haugen, left a wreckage of divisiveness in getting things done.

To lead, Governor Inslee will need to find common ground between all of the factions on a set of new investments that will define much of his Governorship and support his plan for the economy and the priority he places on the environment.

He'll also need to demonstrate that people can have confidence in the direction of the ferry system, the 520 bridge project, the new (enormously expensive) Seattle tunnel, and other projects that have been in the news, for all the wrong reasons, far too often.

Perhaps Hammond can change to fit what's needed to help the next Governor. But that's unlikely. Inslee needs to communicate that he's building a new government for the future.

Holding onto people who were big fighters in Greogoire's administration is probably not the best way to demonstrate new direction that's needed to do the next big things in transportation, no matter how fond of them we might be.

Jan

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 9:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Jan's summary is my best post pick thus far though the bored tunnel project cost issue is insignificant compared to its horrific engineering. Paula Hammond, her predecessor Doug MacDonald and SDOT directors Grace Crunican and Peter Hahn will sooner or later be considered criminally incompetent by their peers if not by the general public and department minnions they employ for damage control when their worst laid plans as expected fall apart.

The Columbia River Crossing project is nothing to crow about. As lead agency on the project Commission, Wsdot has produced another bridge design that cannot be built. Not only is the river clearance too low for minimal navigation standards, the through-truss design to accommodate light rail and a ped/bike corridor is structurally unsound. Ms Hammond's legacy is abject failure of historic proportions. She's a disgraced member of an old school cadre of SOB business-types who've raped America for money.

Wells

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 8:12 a.m. Inappropriate

As a legislator DEBO, you help put in place the Foot Ferry Authorization Legislation for King County. A service which has grown to be over three times as expensive as when it was operated by a private contractor, largely because of the rules in your legislation. Your stewardship of the projects like the 167 hotlanes, which only show a break-even status if you allow for the transfer of overhead operating costs (as you did), give us insight into your comments about Hammond.

Inslee does what he is told, he has no agenda, just secret sauce. Inslee's transition team will decide who stays and who goes, essentially they will run the state for the next Four Years.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 12:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree completely with the analysis by Larry of Paula Hammond's tenure is WSDOT Secretary. I have worked with her for many years and I am impressed with her smart and steady hand as her Department deals with
the every day crises inherent in a very tough job. There is a lot of talk about a new transportation revenue bill and Governor-elect Inslee would be well served to have someone the Legislature trusts as he navigates the pull of interest groups from bicycle clubs to labor unions, local governments and contractors. Stay the course.

bagnew

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 6:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Paula Hammond has done very well in what is the second most difficult public-sector job in our state. While transportation interest group "extremes" (exemplified by Transit Blog and "Geezer") are not satisfied with the state's transportation investment priorities, Paula has, with class and good judgement, continued to fulfill the varied and complex transportation mandates of our Legislature and thus the people of Washington.

But one example: Her fostering our state's small but nationally-respected intercity passenger rail program merited her being selected Chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition, consisting of DOT representatives from 33 states. This morning, in that role, Paula gave valuable testimony before the US House Transportation and Infrastructure committee,

I strongly agree with Larry Ehl's evaluation and feel Washington state would be well served if Paula Hammond remains as our Secretary of Transportation.

Posted Sat, Dec 8, 9:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Governor-elect Inslee's campaign struck a chord more than once: he was the outsider, and his opponent was part of an Olympia cadre that needed some shaking up. His recent appointment of Dr. Mary Alice Heuschel to be his chief of staff seems consistent that campaign theme.

The fact that he may have been sincere about changing aspects of the status quo ante in Olympia apparently represents a threat to a number of the posters above. The government insiders in this thread uniformly call for retaining Hammond.

David Brewster noted recently how transit matters in this state are "toxic". If Governor-elect Inslee cracks open some windows in Olympia that have been long-sealed and lets in some fresh air and sunshine some of those toxic fumes might escape from the rooms where transit policies are addressed and established. That threatens the unjustified financial interests of those in certain circles.

crossrip

Posted Sat, Dec 8, 1:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Inslee isn't smart enough to change anything. We can only hope that his handlers are smarter than he is.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 10:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Are you KIDDING? Retaining Paula Hammond?

N.O.

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