Millar Focused On Transportation System Stewardship
WSDOT Responsibilities Range From Roads and Bridges to Rails and Ferries
The Washington State Department of Transportation oversees a broad-ranging multimodal transportation system - in addition to building, maintaining, and operating the state highway system, WSDOT is responsible for the state ferry system, and works in partnership with others to maintain and improve local roads, railroads and airports, as well as to support alternatives to driving, such as public transportation, bicycles and pedestrian programs. Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar, who was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee in August 2016, directs an agency of 6,800 employees, with responsibility for 18,600 lane miles of highway, 3294 bridges, general aviation airports, passenger and freight rail programs, and Washington State Ferries.
Millar is a second-generation civil engineer with 40 years of experience in the transportation arena. During that time, he has worked in construction, design, planning, research, policy development, management and administration in both the public and private sectors. He has served as public works director, city and county planning director, arterial streets manager and vice president of a multinational engineering firm, among other positions.
Born at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, Millar is a self-described “Army brat”. As he relates, “My father was an Army officer, and I lived on various army bases both in the States and overseas. I was an Eagle Scout, and my first job – at age 14 – was at a Boy Scout summer camp outside Columbus, Georgia. I ran the dining hall, and served 300 Scouts three meals a day.”
He later worked as a research assistant at the Virginia Highway and Transportation Research Council, a joint program of the Virginia DOT and the University of Virginia, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. Millar is a licensed professional engineer in Washington and five other states, and a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers; he received the ASCE President's Medal in 2016 and was named Outstanding Public Official by ASCE in 2017. He also holds professional credentials from the American Institute of Certified Planners and the Association of State Floodplain Managers. Millar has received recognition and awards from numerous national, state and professional organizations.
He joined WSDOT as deputy secretary in October 2015 and was appointed acting secretary in February 2016. Millar and wife Candis have two teenage children; Candis Millar is the former planning director of Billings, Montana; she retired in 2016.
When Millar was appointed acting Secretary in February 2016, it was during a chaotic time for WSDOT. Millar's predecessor had been ousted by the state Senate when they took the rare move of rejecting her gubernatorial appointment – refusing a vote to confirm her after she had been on the job for over 3½ years.
Millar comments, “As I did my research prior to accepting an appointment as Deputy Secretary, I asked many of my industry connections about WSDOT. I heard nothing but positive comments about the Department's efficient development and delivery of projects. There was some criticism and skepticism because expectations are so high among the public – I was concerned about the perceptions, but not about the agency’s performance.”
Enhanced Urban Planning, Strategic Development Initiatives Are Career Highlights
Looking back over an active and varied career, Millar cites several initiatives which he found particularly gratifying. “I led the planning and design of the Portland Streetcar and helped found Portland Streetcar, Inc. The Streetcar program has helped foster over $8 billion of urban development within a quarter-mile of the tracks.” Portland Streetcar began service in 2001; it now operates three lines around 16 miles of track and has served over 55 million riders. The Pearl District and the planning and design of the Portland Streetcar are seen as national models for urban livability.
“I served as a consultant to the Colorado DOT and the Roaring Fork Transit Authority in Colorado, “he continues. “RFTA is the second biggest transit system in Colorado, the largest rural transit system in the U.S., and the first rural transit agency to construct and operate a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. VelociRFTA BRT began operation in September 2013. In 2014, in its first full year of operation, VelociRFTA transported 827,000 passengers.”
Before joining WSDOT, Millar served for five years as a Vice President at Washington, D.C.-based Smart Growth America, a coalition of advocacy organizations that have a stake in how metropolitan expansion affects the environment, quality of life and economic sustainability. “Smart Growth America works with everyone involved in the process of urban planning and development to think strategically about building better towns and cities,” Millar comments. “
“During my time with Smart Growth America, I also served as director of the National Complete Streets Coalition,” he adds. “Our goal was to fundamentally transform the look, feel, and function of the nation’s roads and streets by changing the way they are planned, designed, and constructed. Over 1,000 Complete Streets policies have been adopted, including policies adopted by 32 state governments. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”
Additionally, Millar was active in the creation and management of partnerships with governors, Department of Transportation CEO's, and other transportation providers and stakeholders to advance state DOT transportation initiatives. “These projects are designed to put sustainable policies in place on the ground and provide models for other states. Our team developed TheInnovative DOT: A handbook of policy and practice, which was first published in 2012, and we delivered multiple demonstration projects in partnership with state agencies in Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont.”
Multiple Major Projects Underway in Washington State
Millar says he prefers to think in terms of transportation system stewardship, not projects, when considering WSDOT's initiatives. Even so, a review of some of the Department's recent and current projects is a good illustration of the myriad ways in which WSDOT is working to improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of Washington's transportation system.
- The Alaskan Way Viaduct, an elevated section of State Route 99 in Seattle, was built in the 1950s, and decades of daily wear and tear have taken their toll on the structure. The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program includes projects led by WSDOT, King County, the City of Seattle and the Port of Seattle. The Federal Highway Administration is also a partner in this effort. Major elements of the program include a two-mile-long tunnel beneath downtown Seattle; a mile-long stretch of new highway that connects to the south entrance of the tunnel, near Seattle’s stadiums; a new overpass at the south end of downtown that allows traffic to bypass train blockages near Seattle’s busiest port terminal; and a new Alaskan Way surface street along the waterfront that connects SR 99 to downtown.
- The new State Route 520 floating bridge is the longest floating span of highway in the world, at 7,708 feet. Lake Washington’s extreme depth and soft lake bed required the construction of a floating bridge rather than a conventional fixed bridge. Supported by more, bigger and stronger pontoons than the old bridge, the new floating bridge is designed to withstand much stronger windstorms and waves. Its design also allows it to be retrofitted for light rail if the region pursues that option in the future.
- East of Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90 – which links the Cascades region to the restof the country – is Washington first freeway overpass for animals. The 150-foot-long structure is designed to provide safe passage for a wide range of species. The completed project will incorporate more than 20 major underpasses and overpasses engineered partly or wholly with wildlife in mind.
- Washington State Ferries is replacing the aging and seismically vulnerable parts of Colman Dock in Seattle, its largest ferry terminal, which supports transportation across Puget Sound between downtown Seattle and communities in Kitsap County and the Olympic Peninsula. WSF has also recently added its 4thOlympic-class ferry.
Transportation System Improvement Comes With Challenges
There is unmistakable momentum in Washington's transportation system improvement initiatives. One driving factor is the 2015 Connecting Washingtonfunding package, a $16 billion investment that enhances the statewide transportation system and maintains critical infrastructure. Connecting Washingtonis a 16-year program, funded primarily by an 11.9-cent gas tax increase. The program provides $9.4 billion for state highways and local roads; $1.4 billion state highway maintenance, operations and preservation; $1.3 billion for non-highway projects such as bike paths, walkways, rail and transit; $602 million for ferries and terminals; and $300 million for fish barriers.
But realizing these improvements does not come without challenges for WSDOT. “One of our biggest challenges is demographics,” Millar states. “For example, we have a great maintenance group statewide, but 80% of our maintenance supervisors are eligible for retirement, and probably half of WSDOT’s employees will become eligible for retirement over the next few years. We’re encouraging our older employees to stay longer, with options like retire-and-rehire on a part-time basis.
“Retention among younger employees is another problem, one that is having an impact on the department in several ways. Wed have had some success working with the legislature to address salary and benefits issues. And efforts are underway to improve the working environment, with options like flexible hours, telecommuting, and improving office design and environment.
“Another issue is that over the next 30 years, Washington will become a minority-majority state. We are working to address the need for more diversity in our workforce.
“How we address all these concerns will drive our success in the coming years.”