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Charisma gap: Washington State Department of Transportation
On behalf of Mike Lindblom.
David Dye, deputy secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation, told fellow employees Thursday he accepted a private-sector job with HNTB, to develop mega-projects in the South. He will leave WSDOT at the end of June after 32 years, and start his new job at the end of July, in Baton Rouge, La.
His departure creates a charisma deficit at DOT, at a time when the agency will probably ask the Legislature for new projects, taxes and fees in 2013 -- and maybe even stare down questions of whether and how to toll Interstate 90.
Dye often appeared on newscasts, and was the point man in political hearings. He is known for keeping his cool under questioning. That role now will probably be filled by Secretary Paula Hammond, he said Thursday.
When the new Highway 520 tolling program was delayed a year by technical glitches, outside experts praised Dye for stepping in to negotiate a recovery plan with the Texas-based contractors, allowing a start-up Dec. 29. Seattle voters may remember him for criticizing former Mayor Greg Nickels' Highway 99 "tunnel lite" proposal as unsafe, in the run-up to a chaotic 2007 advisory vote in Seattle. The state is building a four-lane deep tunnel instead, and, so far, is on schedule.
On the negative side, Dye recently admitted state revenue predictions for future Highway 99 tunnel tolls were overly optimistic, and must be revised $200 million downward -- which means DOT must back-fill with federal bridge grants that could have been spent elsewhere around the state. Highway 520 remains underfunded, and the Columbia River Crossing in turmoil.
Dye, age 53, earned about $155,000 a year, as of 2010. Higher pay at HNTB played a role in his move, but Dye says his main passion was the chance to lead individual projects. "The Eastern Seaboard, the South, Texas, are a very large area and there's lots of programs there. They've got a very aggressive highway investment program," he said. HNTB constantly is promoting more tollways, but Dye said he won't be involved in any attempts by HNTB to do business with I-90 tolling; Washington state ethics laws would preclude that.
His message to employees said, in part:
"I believe WSDOT employees embody all that is good about public service and you should be proud of the careers you have chosen and the services you provide to our public. You always rise to the occasion to run the boats, plow the snow, pay the bills, design the roads, administer the contracts, and the countless other things you do 24/7/365 to keep our public moving safely. Public service is a high calling and it is hard work, but with unique rewards. You do it better than any team I've ever seen, under the leadership of the best transportation secretary in the country.''
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