Wash. Governor Inslee Selects New State DOT Director

Wash. Governor Jay Inslee chose Lynn Peterson from Oregon to lead the Wash. State DOT.

Governor Jay Inslee has selected Lynn Peterson from Oregon to be the new WSDOT Secretary, replacing Paula Hammond. Inslee conducted a national search before settling on Peterson. Read his news release.

An excerpt from the release:

“We need an innovative approach to fixing a transportation network that is outdated and hampering our economic growth,” said Inslee. “Lynn has the experience, creativity and leadership skills to help Washington build a transportation system for the 21st century. And we’ll do that in a way that more efficiently moves people and goods and reduces carbon emissions.”

“Peterson helped manage several of Oregon’s statewide transportation initiatives including the Willamette Valley Passenger Rail Plan, Kitzhaber’s 10-year Energy Action Plan including Oregon’s portion of the Electric Highway from B.C. to Baja and acceleration of commercial fleet turnover to alternative fuels, and more.”

Given the delay in finalizing the position, especially as transportation issues were heating up in the legislature, it was becoming clear to most that the Governor was looking to make a change. Hammond’s national reputation for creating one of the greener state DOTs in the nation, and as an advocate for passenger rail and a leader in performance measures, wasn’t enough to save her job. Hammond wanted to keep the job, and did not retire or resign as many accounts suggest.

Peterson must be confirmed by the state Senate, an aspect missed by most commenters. There may be some pointed questions from Republicans and pro-roads legislators, but confirmation is virtually assured.

Who is Lynn Peterson?
Since March 2011 Peterson has served as the Sustainable Communities and Transportation Policy Advisor to Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. Prior to that she was Clackamas County Commissioner. That county is just east of Portland. As Commissioner Peterson almost certainly became familiar with the county’s primary industries of agriculture, timber, manufacturing, and their reliance on the transportation network. She also became familiar with transportation’s impact on commuters into Portland.

Peterson worked in transportation planning for both (Portland) Metro and TriMet, as a transportation advocate for 1000 Friends of Oregon, and also served on the Lake Oswego City Council.

She earned a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from University of Wisconsin, and two Masters degrees from Portland State University, one in Civil and Environmental Engineering and one in Urban and Regional Planning.

Peterson briefly flirted with running for Governor in 2009, but quickly got behind Kitzhaber’s candidacy.  (“Peterson will not run for governor,” Willamette Week).

Peterson’s role for Oregon Governor
According to insiders, Peterson’s job wasn’t the typical gubernatorial policy staffer position – it was closer to a Cabinet-level advisor. We wrote about Peterson back in April 2011: “A New Kind of Transportation Advisor for Oregon Governor.”

Here’s some of the reaction from when Kitzhaber appointed Peterson:

“Ms. Peterson will lead the Governor’s policy efforts on transportation initiatives including, high speed rail, freight and highway planning and improvement, the Solar Highway, and linking transportation to housing and sustainability,” (“Lynn Peterson joins Governor’s staff; Clackamas County faces shake-up,” BlueOregon.com).

“Peterson’s transportation credentials — and her commitment to transit, bicycling and walking — are well known. She has previously worked as a planner for TriMet and was also a transportation advocate for land-use non-profit 1000 Friends of Oregon. Back in December, Peterson put $150,000 in planning money in the Lake Oswego to Portland streetcar project toward determining the feasibility of a bikeway on Highway 43,” (“Lynn Peterson named as Governor’s transportation policy advisor,” BikePortland.org).

“Her knowledge, dedication and expertise will be integral to helping get Oregonians back to work building a sustainable 21st century transportation system. Ms. Peterson will lead the Governor’s policy efforts on transportation initiatives including, high speed rail, freight and highway planning and improvement, the Solar Highway, and linking transportation to housing and sustainability,” (Kitzhaber press release).

In that role for Kitzhaber, Peterson has gained experience dealing with the various transportation stakeholders with often-competing goals. In 2011 on behalf of Governor Kitzhaber she convened a stakeholder group to develop a permanent investment plan and funding mechanism for multi-modal transportation investments.

Insight into Peterson’s philosophy on transportation issues
Perhaps the best insight into Peterson’s thinking on transportation issues (at least as of the beginning of her time with Kitzhaber) comes from an interview with OTREC (Oregon Transportation Research & Education Consortium. Here’s an excerpt (read the entire interview here):

“Peterson said she didn’t hesitate to step into a role that places her in the center of potentially contentious projects or between the governor and other agencies. She savors participating in the effort to bring high-speed rail to Oregon, for example.

“I see the opportunity to provide direction and potentially speed up the process,” Peterson said.

Leaders shouldn’t pull back on ambitious transportation plans just because money to complete the plans hasn’t been identified, she said. “There are a lot of opportunities with the existing resources, even though they’re financially constrained, to move forward with least-cost planning, practical design and value engineering.

“When there’s less money, that’s the time to plan,” Peterson said. “We have missed opportunities when there has been money on the table because we didn’t have a fully vetted plan.”

Peterson’s experience in local politics gives her the consensus-building background needed to bridge groups with different priorities. She’s starting to use that skill to find agreement between the Oregon Department of Transportation and local governments on highway access problems.

City leaders want dense, livable centers along state highways that double as urban streets while slowing automobiles to promote safety and boost local businesses. State officials want to keep auto traffic moving smoothly and predictably.

“It’s just a matter of balancing,” Peterson said. “One agency’s mission is to increase, or at least maintain the level of mobility. The other jurisdiction has the mission to promote healthy and vibrant communities.”

Peterson also wants to put real meaning behind the term “healthy” by using health impact assessments for major capital projects. Environmental impact statements “rarely talk about the health of people except in terms of emissions,” she said. “It’s never about an improvement in the connectivity of the pedestrian environment so people have more places to walk, with the impacts on obesity, cardio health and asthma rates.”

Lastly, Peterson walks her talk when it comes to sustainable transportation. She was a very early adopter of electric vehicles, having converted a Fiat back in the 90’s. She’s owned a Prius and currently is on her second Nissan Leaf (“My EV isn’t my valentine, but there’s a lot to love,” SustainableBusinessOregon.com).

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