DDOT Tackles Unique Transportation Issues as Both City and State Agency
The District DOT Director Marootian Oversees Diverse Transportation Projects in the Nation's Capital
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT), in Washington DC, is the only DOT in the nation which functions as both a city and state transportation agency. As DDOT Director Jeff Marootian states, “Some days I wear one hat, some days the other, and sometimes both. Our unique city and state responsibilities present both opportunities and challenges.”
Marootian was confirmed as Director in January, after having been nominated for the position by Mayor Muriel Bowser in October 2017. He had been appointed as the Interim Director of DDOT in September after the agency's former director left to take a job in the private sector. Prior to that appointment, Marootian had served as the department's Deputy Director since rejoining DDOT in March 2017.
A native of the city of Wayne in northern New Jersey, he recalls that he considered some two-dozen colleges before choosing the District of Columbia's George Washington University. “Even as a 17-year-old, I knew that Washington was where I wanted to go to college and live,” Marootian relates. “I was always interested in federal politics and government, and I understood that Washington was a community with its own economic system and system of government. I found that very exciting.”
Marootian received both a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Public Administration from George Washington University. Even while still in college, he began to pursue leadership roles, including, among others: Student Association Vice President for Community Affairs, Community Service Director of GW College Democrats; and the Faculty Senate Committee for Urban Affairs.
Experience in District and Federal Roles
After college, Marootian was selected as a Capital City Fellow with the Government of the District of Columbia, holding legislative and community affairs roles with both the Metropolitan Police Department and DDOT. The Capital City Fellows Program is a mayoral initiative to attract recent graduates of master's degree programs in public administration, public policy, urban planning, social work and related fields to work for the city.
“While in this job, I worked regularly with a then-new DDOT Director,” Marootian recalls. “He reached out to me when he was looking to bring on someone to work in the area of Community Relations. I saw transportation as more than just building roads – what it did to connect people and communities, and how transportation enhancements could bring about economic opportunities.”
During this first stint at DDOT, from 2008 through 2011, Marootian worked as the Customer Service Officer, focusing on public engagement activities and relationships with Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and other District officials. He implemented the community engagement strategy for DDOT and ran the emergency management command center during a Presidential Inauguration and other major city-wide events.
From 2011 to 2013, he served on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), collaborating with national leaders to build a coalition of donors and grassroots supporters for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Marootian also led the DNC effort to reach LGBT voters through social media and grassroots campaigns, and presented at DNC fundraisers and at a LGBT caucus event.
He then joined the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) where he served as White House Liaison from 2013 to 2015 and as Assistant Secretary for Administration from 2015 to 2017. During his time there, Marootian advised Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and collaborated with heads of federal transportation regulatory agencies to promote President Obama’s transportation agenda. He served on the leadership team, whose achievements include launching the nationwide Smart Cities Challenge, and helped secure passage of the FAST Act. He oversaw the 55,000-employee agency’s business and management operations, which encompass workforce development and human resources, diversity, facilities, procurement and security.
Marootian also worked to advance the goals of the Build America Bureau, which helps to drive transportation infrastructure development projects in the United States. The Bureau streamlines credit opportunities and grants and provides access to the credit and grant programs with more speed and transparency, while also providing technical assistance and encouraging innovative best practices in project planning, financing, delivery, and monitoring.
In the spring of 2017, he returned to the DDOT. Marootian relates, “I had the opportunity to serve in the Mayor's administration for an agency I was very familiar with. I loved the people, the work force, the work they do; I was honored to come back.”
He is also an Adjunct Professor at his alma mater, George Washington University. “I teach a course in Organizational Management in the Masters in Public Administration program. It's very time-consuming, but it's a personal passion of mine.”
Department Works Closely with USDOT
At one time, DDOT was a branch of the DC Department of Public Works. In 2002, however, the DC Council passed the District Department of Transportation Establishment Act, creating a cabinet level agency responsible for the management of transportation infrastructure and operations. DDOT identifies and develops the transportation related projects for the District of Columbia Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and the annual Capital Budget. The CIP uses these recommendations as the basis for projects to include in the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) and Financially Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP). These documents, compiled by the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (WMCOG), provide an overview of the transportation projects desired and planned for construction over a period of twenty years.
The District of Columbia's Capital Improvement Program (CIP), the “Capital Program,” comprises the financing, acquisition, development and implementation of permanent improvement projects for the District's fixed assets. The CIP consists of the appropriated budget authority request for the upcoming fiscal year and projected funding/expenditure plans for the following five years.
The Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) is prepared each year by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), which is the designated metropolitan planning organization for the Washington region. It satisfies one of the requirements of the FHWA and FTA for the continuing transportation planning process of the region (necessary for certification to insure continued federal financial assistance for Washington area transportation improvements).
“Much of the work we do is on large federally-funded projects which have major local impact,” Marootian comments. “We work closely with the USDOT, to align our projects with theirs. We meet with USDOT every week, to ensure that planning is consistent between our two agencies.
Multiple Projects Currently Underway
At any one time, the DDOT has hundreds of projects in the pipeline – some in the early planning stages, some in the detailed design phase, and many under construction. Examples of particularly significant current projects include:
The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge
This project calls for the replacement of a 68-year-old bridge and reconstruction of the Suitland Parkway/I-295 interchange. The existing bridge has been classified functionally obsolete and needs to be replaced due to its condition, age and functional limitations. This project is designed to increase pedestrian and vehicular safety, improve multimodal transportation options, increase community accessibility and support economic development on both sides of the Anacostia River. Marootian comments, “This billion-dollar project is the largest public infrastructure project in DDOT’s history.”
Street Light Modernization
The District of Columbia has more than 71,000 lights installed on streets, alleys and other public spaces. These lights use a variety of inefficient bulb technologies, including incandescent and high-pressure sodium. The District is seeking a private partner to retrofit the lights with more energy efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, install a remote monitoring and control system, and repair and maintain the facilities under a long-term performance-based contract. “This is our first P3 project,” Marootian says. We’re doing this is conjunction with the Mayor’s office. I became familiar with P3 when I was with USDOT, and saw how it could have real value for DDOT.”
Washington is a Vision-Zero City
This initiative states that by 2024, DC will reach zero fatalities and serious injuries to travelers of its transportation system. The initiative is part of the Mayor’s response to the USDOT’s Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets, which aims to improve pedestrian and bicycle transportation safety by showcasing effective local actions. Marootian says, “By 2024 there will be a number of engineering projects to make roadways safer. While this project is smaller in scope, it is critical.”
A Focus on New Technology
DDOT is focused on multi-modal transportation, according to Marootian; one result is the establishment of a funding plan between the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland to provide dedicated funding for transit. “We want to bring new technologies to the District,” he says. “For example, we're doing a number of studies on the potential use of autonomous vehicles.”
Marootian says he “pushes really hard” to improve the District’s infrastructure and make it safer. “I come to work every day with that vision and that sense of urgency. Ultimately, my goal is to build a stronger city and community through our transportation system. When the time comes, I want to leave this job having made the agency better than when I started.”