Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has nominated a replacement to head the city’s Department of Transportation. Peter Hahn, currently deputy public works administrator for the city of Renton, faces confirmation by the city council.

This blog previously editorialized that the new Mayor should keep Grace Crunican, who has done an excellent job moving the city’s transportation department toward a sustainable, urbanist agency. She was a hot potato during the Mayoral election for her department’s troubles in responding to the 2008 snowstorms and announced her decision to resign last week. She will stay on board for three weeks after Hahn begins work at SDOT on January 19th to help transition the agency to its new leadership. Hahn is expected to actually head the agency beginning February 5th.

The scale of Snohomish County’s public works department — which Hahn used to administer — isn’t much less than SDOT, The Stranger reports. While SDOT has 750 employees and a $310 million budget, Hahn’s current group has about 650 employees and a budget of $200 million. Still, we don’t know much about Hahn’s views on public transit, complete streets, and other policy positions that are important to us. We for now safely assume that he will take his policy direction from the Mayor, who is no slouch on sustainable transportation.

A good sign is Hahn’s taste in women. The P-I reports that Hahn’s wife, Mary McCumber, is a board member of Futurewise — a progressive group focused on TOD and sustainable growth — supported the Surface/Transit Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement option when she was a stakeholder on that project and was executive director of PSRC for 12 years.

18 Replies to “McGinn Nominates New Head for SDOT”

  1. Fantastic. I know Mary, and if he’s good enough for her, he’s good enough for the City of Seattle. Jus’ my opinion

  2. So, let’s see, Renton with about 82,000 population and 22 square miles, population density about 4600 per square mile, and Seattle, with 145 square miles, population about 602k, density about 7100. I wonder how much you’d need to increase the budget to give the new department head the kind of money he’s used to playing with.

  3. The Stranger incorrectly reported those figures. They were actually from the government of Snohomish County where he worked prior to Renton.

    1. It’s a little more believable that Snohomish County would have a public works department roughly the same size as the City of Seattle.

  4. If McGinn populates his ‘cabinet’ with those directly or indirectly opposed to the tunnel option, but the Seattle City Council with the exception of O’Brien overwhelmingly supports it, then this is a potential recipe for gridlock and conflict and of course, also failure.

    1. No, they don’t “overwhelmingly” support it. Jan Drago has been pushing for a “unanimous” vote for a very long time with a lot of sausage making involved in getting the votes. Licata, Bagshaw and O’Brien are against it, Godden and Clark are lukewarm, and Conlin has indicated that he would be the defacto voice of the Mayor’s office in these sorts of matters. Moreover, the order to “proceed” is ultimately non-binding until contracts are signed. Without McGinn and the whole council on board, subsequent budgets will strangle the tunnel project while the legislature pulls out of funding.

      Oh, and Ron Panaanen said this in the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Paananen said he welcomed scrutiny from the city’s new mayor. “We should be open to tough questions; it’s a very large project,” he said. For now, the tunnel is due to be opened in 2015.”

      For now. Notice any nuance there?

      The only failure I see from here is the failure of the tunnel.

      Say, who did you vote for, anyway? I mean, the over 90% of trips on the viaduct begin and end in Seattle, so you’re probably a Seattle voter, right? That’s about the only way it would really matter to you anyway. Were you one of those voters who erroneously thought McGinn flip-flopped on the tunnel and voted for him anyway, or are you a Mallahan man?

      1. Well actually I am not a Seattle voter but live in Issaquah for what its worth to the discussion. If I had voted in Seattle, I would have abstained on the mayoral vote as I didn’t care for either candidate – neither of them seemed to represent the Seattle I love and want to see – McGinn seemed obsessed with no tunnel and everyone biking to work instead which didn’t make a lot of sense and I totally disagreed with Mallahan on guns in Seattle parks.

        I think we need a mega project like the tunnel and to use the wretched thing as a chance to get the waterfront back for our city. I appreciated the fact that it took us 8 argumentative years to get to the point we did politically on the tunnel and I don’t think it is in our best interests to discuss the matter much further beyond the logistics of how to fund and build it. I am guessing that our best bet would be to get Senator Murray on board as Chairperson of the Senate Transportation Committee.

        As for the City Council, they just voted 9 to 0 to proceed with negotiations and even more than this, both the council and the mayor have lobyists for the upcoming session in Olympia, so I would say that the Council is more serious than you make them out to be on the subject.

        Who is Ron Panaanen?

        I would also say that the tunnel is exactly the type of project that the federal government ought to be interested in by way of stimulating regional economies around the Country. The New York Times ran a piece a few months back on the dearth of such projects compared to the days when they were much more common. If I remember correctly, they used the phrase “regional game changers” and referenced the interstate highway system as an example. Of course, I can’t find the link but it was a Week In Review article if I recall correctly.

        I am afraid that I am not a transportation expert compared to everyone else here, but I can see a vision that overleaps dead ends and compromises. If the relevant planning authorities have circumnavigated certain things that most here want to see, I am sure they have found a loop hole somewhere that we don’t yet know about.

      2. The vote as it likely stands is:
        Against: Licata, O’Brien, Bagshaw
        Neutral: Godden, Conlin, Rasmussen, Clark
        For: Burgess, Harell

        Negotiations may have gone forward under Drago, but we’re certainly not going to see those easy-going negotiations in the future, especially since Drago was the Council’s conservative voice and played hardball on a LOT of projects. Go back and watch some of the Council’s deliberations on the budget, for example. Favors were called in, absolutely.

        The lobbyists you mention are not going to be used in the manner you assume they are, especially since it’s not a good idea to balkanize city hall. Conlin is going to be McGinn’s voice on the council (he’s the head of the legislative department, McGinn the executive, so they’re the respective contacts of both) and the Council will follow with little dissent. And trust me when I say that McGinn’s populist appeal and massive grab of voters to the age of 35 is going to make him a powerhouse unless he utterly screws over that age group.

        What it sounds like is that people want Seattle to conform to some regional norm, even though almost all use of the Viaduct and waterfront is residents of Seattle and tourists, who are certainly not going to visit Shoreline, Bellevue or Issaquah in any respectable numbers. This is a Seattle project.

        You argue that this is the kind of megaproject we need, which seems to imply you think Seattle should be some kind of welfare project for the region and state. No, it shouldn’t. Olympia’s assumption that it can use Seattle for its low-hanging fruit projects and big industry coddling is beyond the pale at this point.

        Finally, Ron Panaanen is the project manager for the AWV replacement. A quiet critic of the lack of studies on the surface option but a proponent of doing things in the least immediately disruptive way, he’s been pretty amenable to the idea of doing what suits the constituents’ desires and was ready to take the vote from a few years back as a directive until the money started lining up behind the tunnel and Nickels and Gregoire said go for it.

        The fact that he’s ready to accept the “hard questions” indicates that the project will go ahead not as a tunnel but by the desires of the City of Seattle. If it ends up being a tunnel by some fluke, then so be it.

      3. AJ:

        “You argue that this is the kind of megaproject we need, which seems to imply you think Seattle should be some kind of welfare project for the region and state”

        That is exactly what I think and believe, but I don’t see it as a ‘welfare project’ but more along the lines of what we achieved during the New Deal – a way to get people back to work and a way to lend the city prestige.

        I am sorry but we can’t drive the economy on bicycles as McGinn seems to feel we can. It might be populist and amenable to the under 35 crowd, but its not to those of us older and able to see a wider scene beyond the windows of some joint in Greenwood. Not that I dislike Greenwood, but I think we need a larger perspective. McGinn needs to show that he can be mayor of more than just the bicycle crowd whose needs quite frankly are like the Stealth Bomber – they are not even on my radar all that much. Seattle is not Amsterdam – it has different typography and different ways of meeting its needs. Bicycles are a small part of that – Light Rail, Streetcars, BRT and buses are way more important and if the political powers that be can find a way, then yes, too so is the tunnel. If cars go away as they must, then the tunnel can later be converted into light rail as needed.

      4. Bagshaw is PRO-tunnel, and said so multiple times on the campaign trail.

        I have no idea where anyone gets the idea that Conlin is McGinn’s voice on the Council.

        And McGinn ran on a platform of well over a dozen different ideas for the city — including things like building broadband, identifying better ways for the City to support local schools, and accelerating planning for a Ballard-Downtown-West Seattle light rail line — none of which involved “getting everyone to bike to work”.

      5. Tim, the Deep-bore’s most severe flaw is its lack of access at Western/Elliott for Ballard-bound traffic, some 40,000 vehicles daily or 2500 ‘per hour’ that will be dumped on the new Alaskan Way. To make matters worse, the “Mercer West” project proposes to direct some of this traffic, (5,000–10,000), up the steep 2-lane Mercer Place through Lower Queen Anne past Seattle Center to the Deep-bore north portal on Aurora, and on to I-5, as if there isn’t already too much traffic on Mercer. The impacts during construction of the north portal, and after, are more severe than the south portal. Finally, the Deep-bore is too large an excavation too close to Seattle’s downtown towers to risk it, especially in a major earthquake.

        You want an inspiring stimulus project? Then build the 4-lane Cut-n-cover tunnel instead. Tear up the waterfront! It has to be torn up anyway for rebuilding the seawall, removing the AWV, constructing the new Alaskan Way. The cut/cover tunnel makes the strongest seawall and the most stable Alaskan Way surface streets. And contrary to what you may have heard, the construction process is quite manageable.

      6. Licata is an elevated option guy; he might obstruct the tunnel, but that’s different from actually helping to find a solution.

      7. Licata is the worst on this issue: basically we need to keep the elevated viaduct because it’s ugliness represents our working-class roots.

  5. Hahn is a brilliant hire. SDOT operates a big road and bridge system – streets that that are used by buses, and everything else. A lot of it is old. Much of it is still not equiped for heavy buses. Hahn will be a good fix it first guy.

    He’s no ideologue. He’s a solid manager, has smarts and experience, and works well with others, most of the time.

    Those are strengths that will serve the new rookie Mayor well. Hahn represent positive change at SDOT.

  6. Correction: Grace Crunican has done a “LOUSY” job moving the city’s transportation department toward a sustainable, urbanist agency. For cryin out loud, STB. Forget the snowstorm snafu. Her legacy in Seattle is the elevated ramps in Sodo. Whoopdee-friggin-doo.

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