State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson moved quickly after taking office to start a review of how her agency makes decisions on megaprojects — with an eye toward improving risk management and preventing the kind of errors that have plagued the state Route 520 bridge project.
But her choice of a consultant, Ron Paananen, immediately drew some fire from Republicans who said he was too close to the Department of Transportation and its big road projects. He was a former WSDOT administrator who now works for a consulting firm that does business with the department. One legislator suggested hiring a second consultant to take charge of the review.
WSDOT says it took some work to find someone with no ties to the agency. The search ended up finding John Njord, who spent more than a decade as the Utah transportation director until retiring just days before starting in Washington at the beginning of this month.
A WSDOT spokesman said the two consultants would be partners rather than one being in charge.
The review by Njord and Paananen is at the core of Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration’s insistence that it will demand more accountability along with higher transportation taxes. On Friday it was the one move Inslee’s office pointed to when pressed for specifics about the governor’s “accountability action plan” released that day. The five-point plan is light on details but calls for more transparency and efficiency:
- Right-size projects to live within our means
- Use Lean management to instill a culture of efficiency
- Facilitate permitting to support timely project completion
- Increase transparency to reduce errors and strengthen public confidence
- Reward innovation to build a 21st century transportation system
UPDATE 12:50 p.m.: The state contract with Njord authorizes paying him up to $150,000 through the review’s conclusion in September and the contract with Paananen’s firm allows for paying up to $350,000, according to WSDOT, which said the actual payments could end up lower.