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ODOT renames Portland region headquarters after outgoing director Matt Garrett

Posted by on June 26th, 2019 at 8:26 am

Presenting the Matthew L. Garrett Building.

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.

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Garrett in 2016.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

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.

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

26 Comments
  • Avatar
    bikeninja June 26, 2019 at 8:57 am

    While we are at it lets rename the white ghost bikes that are placed near the tragic deaths of cyclists on dangerous ODOT byways , “Garret Cycles”. Seems more appropriate to me.

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    Al June 26, 2019 at 9:03 am

    “Oregon Freeways…Symbol of 2nd Century Progress”

    So the director is not appointed by the gov? This comes down to some commission process? How can Oregonians participate in getting a good appointment?

    Recommended Thumb up 5

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    nuovorecord June 26, 2019 at 9:25 am

    His suits were nice and he always looked professional. Too bad there wasn’t much of a man inside them.

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    Allan Rudwick June 26, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Does this mean we’ll have a ‘die in at the Garrett’ in the future instead of ‘a die in in front of ODOT’ ?

    It has a nice ring to it

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      nuovorecord June 26, 2019 at 9:45 am

      “Lay flat at the Matt?”

      Recommended Thumb up 13

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    Matthew in PDX June 26, 2019 at 9:42 am

    I always think it’s a big mistake to name public monuments after people who are still alive. People who are still alive can go on to do things that will cause embarrassment to those who live with the monument. Further, it is often after death that some of the less pleasant things about a person are revealed, when a defamation suit is no longer a threat (you can’t libel the dead).

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      El Biciclero June 26, 2019 at 12:41 pm

      Phil Knight should know this better than anyone

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      mh June 27, 2019 at 10:26 am

      How much more shamed can he be than he has already shamed himself?

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      Timothy Moss June 27, 2019 at 2:28 pm

      …when a defamation suit is no longer a threat (you can’t libel the dead)
      Not yet! Give those lawyers a new idea why wont you;)

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    bikeninja June 26, 2019 at 10:12 am

    Never let it be said that the Automobile, Trucking, Highway Construction, Petroleum , Climate Change Denial industry does not reward its faithful servants.

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    PDXCyclist June 26, 2019 at 10:47 am

    Regardless of how good or bad I think someone is, I feel like a public building shouldn’t be named after a person until they have passed away for 20 years (arbitrarily picked the 20 years, but I do think the person shouldn’t be alive). I feel the same way about the new PBOT bridge, the OHSU waterfront building, etc.

    We should find other ways to celebrate living public servants

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      Racer X June 26, 2019 at 12:52 pm

      PDXCyclist brings up a good “process” question…can someone with a bit of spare time research this point? [Especially as the “awardee” is still on the “thrown”?] It would be like the departing governor getting the state capital being named after themself before they retired.

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        David Hampsten June 26, 2019 at 10:08 pm

        I totally agree with Matthew in PDX and PDXCyclist that public buildings and structures should only be named after dead people, preferably people who did good for the community at large. But alas there are far to many things named for live people (or while they were still breathing), including The Robert Byrd Memorial Highway (US 33) in WV, The Robert Byrd Memorial Hospital in Morgantown WV, George Bush (senior) International Airport (Houston), Ronald Reagan Airport (formerly Washington National). Washington DC was called Washington even while George was still alive. Public universities are notorious for naming buildings after live donors: I believe the Hatfield School of Government at PSU even had Mark at it’s opening ceremonies.

        Always keep in mind that anything that is so easily named or renamed can just as easily be later renamed again. The Ned Flanders Building. The Homer Simpson Memorial Highway. The Phillip J. Fry Memorial Spaceport.

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    BradWagon June 26, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Fitting

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    David June 26, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Looks like everyone is trying to judge his legacy based on the jobs created by the highway projects that should have been avoided and the days where no one died on ODOT’s roads.

    The highway projects had externalities that we will be paying for in perpetuity and there were many days where people died on ODOT’s roads and neither one of these things be swept underneath the metaphorical rug.

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    Mark smith June 26, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    He was no public servant. a true public servant does not have a giant cushy pension and a massive outside salary while he was there. And let’s not forget probably the cushy jobs that are waiting for him.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

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    B. Carfree June 26, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    Even had Mr. Garrett been fabulous for the state of Oregon, and he was a disaster by any reasonable measure, I don’t like public property being named after department employees. We already paid him well to be all-in and there’s no good reason to give further honors.

    This is especially true in this case, since this one man may be responsible for the loss of countless lives to traffic violence, toxic air, climate change and even OR’s contribution to war efforts to keep the disaster going. I’m feeling a bit nauseated over this. ODOnT is such a disaster.

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    Keith June 26, 2019 at 10:30 pm

    ODOT consistently reveals its true colors….

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    9watts June 27, 2019 at 8:27 am

    An excellent article, Jonathan.

    Not much to add, except that I’d love to have the followup-comments-relayed-by-email function restored.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

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      Scott Mizée June 27, 2019 at 12:01 pm

      9watts
      An excellent article, Jonathan.Not much to add, except that I’d love to have the followup-comments-relayed-by-email function restored.Recommended 1

      Oh! is *THAT* why I’m not tracking the articles I comment on anymore? Is this just a wordpress error, Jonathan?

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        9watts June 27, 2019 at 12:58 pm

        This has happened a few times over the past six years, and I’m not sure why it is so hard to restore, hard to get some amens from the regulars here. Perhaps others don’t use that feature?

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        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 27, 2019 at 1:51 pm

        sorry. will look into it. One thing I do know is that we’re not likely to fix it right now because we’re in the process of a total comment section revamp (!!).

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    Mick O June 27, 2019 at 9:40 am

    This gives me hope that we can similarly honor Region 1 Public Information Officer Don Hamilton, when he finally hangs up his odious, fetid keyboard. Nothing so ostentatious as a building, but a modest monument: Say, a urinal, or a small trash receptacle should carry his name for the rest of history as a testament to his malevolent contributions to the state of Oregon.

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    Fred June 27, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    What stands out for me about the ODOT video is that Garrett’s flunkies are the only ones who appear in it. Where are the encomia from other leading public servants in Oregon? There aren’t any – and their omission speaks volumes. ODOT can’t even fix the potholes in the bike lanes on Barbur. Good riddance, I say.

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    MARK SMITH June 29, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    It’s a little scary that so many employees of ODOT miss him/idolize him. That will take many, many years to fix. I wonder if there are a number of employees there who see their entire role as to built more/widen roads/make roads faster and Matt was the only guy in “their” corner? Hmmm….

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