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Eager to end Matt Garrett era, advocates set expectations for new ODOT leader


Advocacy groups aim to put their stamp on the selection of the next person to run ODOT.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

After 14 years at the helm, Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garrett resigned last month. For many reform-minded transportation advocates and professionals, he won’t be missed.

“Someone with some brains and integrity would be a healthy contrast to the outgoing director.”
— David Bragdon, former president of Metro

Reached shortly after the news broke on January 18th, The Street Trust Executive Director Jillian Detweiler told us, “He leaves an agency that does not seem prepared for the challenges and opportunities to meet Oregon’s transportation needs in a way that lives up to our values.” Detweiler went on to say that his departure is, “An opportunity for the Governor and Oregon Transportation Commission [the governor-appointed body that oversees ODOT] to hire someone who can lead ODOT to adopt multi-modal strategies for transportation that will address climate change, confront the negative impacts of highways on people of color and low income communities, and save lives.”

Garrett in 2009.

Former Metro President David Bragdon (no stranger to sharp ODOT criticisms) was even more direct in his response about Garrett’s resignation. “It’s good news for Oregon, and long overdue,” he shared with me via email. “Finally, the end of a reign of error – hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on cost overruns, false testimony to the legislature and public, rampant cronyism, an insatiable addiction to debt, and near-total ignorance of modern trends in transportation, cloaked in meaningless platitudes and p.r. spin, the one thing he was semi-good at.”

Bragdon said for the agency to get back on strong footing the Governor should, “Recruit a disciplined manager from outside, with a track record of financial honesty, knowledge of modern engineering principles, with the skill to deliver projects on time and on budget. Someone with some brains and integrity would be a healthy contrast to the outgoing director.”

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Now the effort to influence the next leader of ODOT has begun in earnest. Yesterday a broad coalition of environmental, social justice, and transportation advocacy groups sent a list of recommendations to Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) to make sure the next person in this crucial role reflects their values.

“As you understand,” the letter (embedded below) reads, “our state’s transportation system — like a road — should not be an end in itself but a means to multiple ends. Oregonians expect transportation investments to not merely help move people, goods and services, but to also advance economic, social, health and environmental goals.”

Here are the 14 advocacy leaders who signed the letter:

The letter goes on to outline the importance of making transportation safe and affordable, and using transportation to achieve Oregon’s climate change and public health goals. There’s also a strong demand for going beyond the usual suspects when it comes to not only choosing the new director — but in who’s asked for input in making the selection.

The coalition even gives the OTC and Governor Brown a template for how to write the job description. They outline seven requirements for the job (each of which includes a detailed description):

1. A strong transportation knowledge base.

2. A track record of responsible management of the transportation system, with a focus on maintaining our transportation assets and prioritizing safe and efficient use of transportation infrastructure.

3. A track record of solving access and mobility needs with holistic, equitable, multimodal investments.

4. Demonstrated ability to align transportation investments with environmental, environmental justice, and public health objectives, e.g., meeting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

5. Demonstrated ability to create robust, two-way relationships with external partners and stakeholders.

6. A commitment to addressing the issues raised in the most recent audit of ODOT, to taking a fresh look at ODOT’s functions, and to making decisions independently from stakeholders with a financial interest in such decisions.

7. Experience leading a diverse staff and encouraging innovation, collaboration, and inclusivity to achieve equity in outcomes as core business objectives.

Check out the full letter below:

ODOT Director hire recommendations 2019 (1)

What qualities would your ideal ODOT Director have? Do these recommendations mesh with your vision?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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