State commission close to making pick for ODOT director

The Oregon Transportation Commission just announced a special meeting that will take place on Wednesday where they are likely to choose a new leader of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

ODOT’s longtime director Matt Garrett announced his resignation back in January and left the agency in June. An OTC search committee has been meeting since March to choose his successor.

The Willamette Week reported in late August that three finalists have been chosen. On the short list are Contra Costa Transportation Authority Director Randell Iwasaki, New Hampshire Department of Transportation Director Victoria Sheehan, and current ODOT Highway Department Manager Kris Strickler.

Iwasaki, a civil engineer by training, (@RIwasaki2 on Twitter) has more experience than the other finalists, having worked as head of CalTrans in California where he managed a $10 billion budget (twice that of Oregon’s) and 21,000 employees (over four times the size of ODOT’s staff). In an interview with Contra Costa Today in February of this year, Iwasaki said he got his “love of cars” as a boy while hanging around the gas station owned by his father. Iwasaki’s biggest project to date is the $1.3 billion in eastern Contra Costa County (northeast of San Francisco) that added light rail and widened Highway 4 from four to eight lanes.

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Sheehan oversees an agency that’s much smaller than ODOT. Trained as both an engineer and architect, she recently told New Hampshire Public Radio that NHDOT considers bicycling and walking, “as viable modes of transportation.” “We would like to see that number [of bikers and walkers] increase for many reasons: To get people into active transportation to for their health and well-being and in urban settings where we have congestion and we are trying to create communities where people can live and work and play, we’re working to invest in walking and bicycling that will help communities reach those goals.

Strickler moved to ODOT from Washington’s DOT to be project manager of the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC). During a legislative hearing on speed limits back in March Strickler acknowledged that the 85th percentile rule for setting speeds is outdated. “Maybe the historic practice that we’ve been using [to set speeds] doesn’t necessarily fit the context of what our current transportation system is,” he told lawmakers. “And maybe what the future of that transportation system is, and are there other ways to look at speed setting as we start to look at this future.”

This morning the OTC announced they will meet over the phone in executive session (not open to the public) tomorrow (9/4) at 11:00 am to discussion the director position appointment. “The Commission may come out of Executive Session to take action and name new director and delegate authorities to the newly named director,” reads the agenda (PDF).

Stay tuned for the announcement.

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

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