If Gov. Jay Inslee wants “lean management” to be a hallmark of his administration, the Transportation Department should be Exhibit 1.
It appears that we have a nasty case of engineers gone wild – and Inslee isn’t one bit happy about it. After months of media scrutiny, outgoing Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond finally revealed this week that engineers in her department blew it – big time. The pontoons for the new Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington are cracked and leaking, and the $4.1-billion project is likely to be delayed at least a year. Ouch!
Heads could roll when Inslee determines who’s to blame for what will likely be more than a $100 million fix – that’s right, now let’s see that number with all eight zeros: $100,000,000! This revelation hits the news at a time when our schools need an extra $1 billion, our state parks are on their hands and knees begging for every dollar they can get and lawmakers are considering a possible gas tax increase to fund yet more transportation projects.
Hammond blames the pontoon debacle on design errors by state engineers who she says did not follow “standards of good practice” and failed to run models that would have shown the problem. She also implied in an interview last week that someone, somewhere was pushing too hard: “Everybody wants you to take risks, until something goes wrong.” As top dog at the agency (for about one more week), she apparently doesn’t know where the buck stops.
Wherever the fault lies in this case, we can only hope WSDOT will clean up its act once Inslee’s newly appointed Transportation Secretary-straight-from-Oregon, Lynn Peterson, takes over next month. Inslee says she’s ready to do just that, and we wish her luck.
Former Gov. Christine Gregoire’s appointment of Hammond to head up WSDOT in August 2007 made me nervous from the start. An organization that large embarking on the most extensive capital improvement program in its history needed strong leadership, preferably someone from the outside with a wide range of management experience, tons of discipline and lots of new ideas. Hammond was hired as an engineer at WSDOT straight out of college in 1979 and rose up through the ranks. But putting an insider in charge of people she worked with for 28 years just didn’t make sense.
This latest misstep by WSDOT is just one of many in recent years, some of which predate Hammond’s five years at the helm.
Here’s a shortlist: (more…)