The Oregon Department of Transportation’s regional headquarters in Portland is now known as the Matthew L. Garrett Building.
The agency installed the name of its outgoing director on the side of the building last Friday. He resigned from the position back in January and his last day at the agency is June 30th.
In a video published by ODOT (below) you can see crews installing Garrett’s name on the new building while co-workers pile on the praise. Region 1 Public Information Officer Don Hamilton says, “Matt Garrett’s great legacy for ODOT was the standard he set for kindness and decency. I think naming this building after him is a reminder of that standard he set for all of us at ODOT.”
With less than a week until the Garrett era comes to a close, the adulation he’s receiving from colleagues and the timeless honor of having his name adorn the the Region 1 building, stands in stark contrast to how many transportation advocates will remember him.
While Garrett might have been a nice guy and a good manager, he failed to move the agency away from being a powerful automobile user advocacy group that looked to build and expand freeways and highways at every opportunity and no matter the cost. Despite a promise Garrett made in front of eager ears at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit in 2012 to become less highway-centric, ODOT remains a regressive force in our region that often seems to do more to block progress of biking and walking than to promote it.
Garrett was Region 1 director in 2005 when ODOT completed a major renovation of the St. Johns Bridge. Despite studies showing that a different lane configuration was possible, ODOT caved to the trucking lobby and the project maintained maximum driving capacity. In so doing, ODOT failed to address glaring safety issues and the bridge remains devoid of safe and comfortable space for cycling and walking to this day.
On the state level, Garrett was a key booster of the Columbia River Crossing project that drained state coffers of $200 million in planning money before its spectacular failure in 2013. In 2015 his admission during legislative testimony that the state had drastically miscalculated carbon reduction numbers doomed a major transportation funding package.
When Garrett announced his resignation, former Metro President David Bragdon said, “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.” And The Street Trust Executive Director Jillian Detweiler added that, “[Garrett] 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.”
Despite his controversial tenure that included people on both sides of the idealogical spectrum calling for his removal, Garrett is being celebrated as a mentor and superlative leader by ODOT and members of the Oregon Transportation Commission. In an interview with an ODOT PR person published to the agency’s YouTube channel last week, Garrett shared these parting thoughts: “As I look to June 30th, I think I’m going to be able to say, that over the course of time I did my very best to make sure that the decisions, the deliberations, the way I ran this organization was right and just. And I feel pretty good about that.”
The Oregon Transportation Commission plans to name an interim director at their July 1st meeting.
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