OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said he picked a new transportation secretary who shares his vision for boosting public transit, increasing the capacity of existing highways and reducing carbon emissions from traffic.
Inslee on Tuesday named Lynn Peterson, a highway engineer and adviser to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, to the job. She will replace current transportation secretary Paula Hammond, who leaves her post March 8.
Peterson currently serves as the sustainable communities and transportation adviser to Kitzhaber. She will earn $158,160 to head Washington’s transportation department, which has around 7,200 full-time employees and a $7 billion two-year budget.
Inslee said he respects Hammond, who wanted to stay, but “I chose Lynn Peterson because of her vision, which is very close to mine, about a new transportation future in the state of Washington.”
There was quick grumbling from Republicans, who control the state Senate.
“I do have some concerns (about) what we have read about this lady and her inclinations to support all of these things that are really not going to help us get more product down to the port,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Peterson takes over at a time when the state Legislature is considering increasing gas taxes to help pay for a multibillion-dollar list of transportations projects, including redecking Interstate 5 through King County and building a new crossing over the Columbia River.
House Democrats plan to roll out a proposed transportation package Wednesday that would increase the state gas tax by 10 cents a gallon over five years.
Peterson also will be plopped into the middle of fights over tolling, including whether to charge for crossing the Interstate 90 bridge to help pay for the new 520 bridge now under construction.
Bruce Agnew, a longtime rail advocate and policy director for the Cascadia Center of the Discovery Institute, said he was a “big Paula Hammond fan” but added that Peterson is a good replacement.
Peterson has been navigating local politics in Oregon, trying to secure a corridor for high-speed rail improvements there, Agnew said.
Hammond had said that she hoped to continue running the state Department of Transportation and sent her application to the Inslee administration.
She’s been under pressure lately because of errors in the Highway 520 bridge pontoon construction project that could cost state taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
On the upside, the DOT under Hammond has finished most of its midsized highway improvements on time and on budget, notably a widening of the Renton S Curves. New bridges and road decks are steadily being built just east of Snoqualmie Pass.
Former DOT Secretary Doug MacDonald said Inslee’s pick for a new secretary “reflects his desires for an administration generally that is seen as green, in as many aspects as possible.”
But he said that at a time when the state has several mega projects under way — including the $2 billion Highway 99 tunnel — Inslee is going with a secretary who “has not had management and construction experience.”
“The real problem in all this is the new secretary is going to face very significant project-management challenges,” MacDonald said.
Inslee noted that Peterson is an engineer but said “there are multiple skill sets that people bring to these positions. Some are creating a vision, some are creating consensus, some are managing these projects. It’s going to be a team effort. We’re going to have very strong construction-management people on the team with her.”
Peterson has been a Lake Oswego (Oregon) city councilor, a transportation advocate for 1000 Friends of Oregon and a strategic planning manager for TriMet, Portland’s transit agency, The Oregonian has reported.
She has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and master’s degrees in urban and regional planning, and civil and environmental engineering, according to Inslee’s office.
Peterson served as chairwoman of the Clackamas (Oregon) Board of County Commissioners before joining Kitzhaber’s administration two years ago.
Inslee said he wants to increase the capacity of existing transportation corridors.
“We’ll have to look at lanes with more people per mile (and) look at rail and bus service that has more passengers per mile,” he said.
He also wants to find ways to reduce carbon emissions, adding, “Lynn is very committed, as I am, in finding better options for people to get to and from work and reduce carbon pollution.”
King, the Yakima legislator, has concerns about that approach.
“We have mega projects that need to be addressed,” he said. “I have some concerns about putting someone (in charge of transportation) whose major concern has to do with carbon emissions and bicycle trails and a real heavy focus on high speed rail and transit.”