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November 22, 2013 at 8:55 AM

Seattle transportation director resigns

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Ed Murray had met with all department directors this week. Murray has not yet met with them all.

Seattle Director of Transportation Peter Hahn resigned late Thursday after being informed by Mayor-elect Ed Murray that he wouldn’t be kept on in the new administration.

Murray’s campaign confirmed that Murray began meeting with city department directors this week. By late today, Murray had announced that three other department heads would not be returning and one was retiring.

Budget Director Beth Goldberg, Intergovernmental Affairs Director Marco Lowe and Personnel Director David Stewart all were told that they would not be part of the new administration. Rick Hooper, the director of the Office of Housing, announced his retirement. Catherine Lester, interim director of human services, has been asked to stay on as Murray searches for a permanent director.

Goldberg was credited with guiding the city through a steep recession, rebuilding its rainy-day fund and making the budget more accessible to the public. Marco Lowe was one of outgoing Mayor Mike McGinn’s only holdovers from the Greg Nickels administration. Lowe ran Nickels’ 2002 campaign for mayor and then took a senior job in the administration as Nickels’ director of community relations. Before returning to Seattle to work for McGinn, Lowe was chief of staff for the New York City Department of Small Business Services.

McGinn thanked all the directors for their service to the city in a news release issued after Murray’s announcement.

Hahn was one of McGinn’s highest-profile department directors, helping the mayor implement high-priority projects such as an updated Transit Plan and advancing planning efforts for high-capacity transit corridors.

McGinn noted that when it started snowing, Hahn set up a cot in his office so he could work around the clock overseeing plowing, salting and de-icing operations.

“He’s done great work rebuilding public trust in SDOT’s commitment to the basics,” McGinn said.

Richard Sheridan, SDOT spokesman, said Hahn was leaving today for a planned vacation and would be out of the office for the next week. “Peter notified staff late yesterday that he would not be serving in the new administration,” Sheridan said.

City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council Transportation Committee, praised Hahn as a hands-on administrator and a conscientious public servant. “He was a tremendous SDOT director. He cared deeply about having a well-functioning department.”

But Rasmussen speculated that Murray, a former state Senate Transportation chair, wants to make his own mark on the department.

During the mayoral campaign, Murray said he wanted an integrated transportation system with all the different elements, including roads, buses and light rail, working well together. In pre-election polling, Seattle residents said congestion was one of their biggest frustrations.

Hahn may also have been handicapped by his close association with outgoing Mayor McGinn. Hahn defended McGinn’s opposition to the tunnel and his aggressive challenge  of the state’s environmental assessment of the project, saying the city had a right to know how the project would affect its streets and traffic.

Hahn, 68, took over the department from Grace Crunican, who was out of town on vacation during part of a bad snowstorm in 2008 and later said of the paralyzed streets, “I don’t drive a snow plow.”

Rasmussen said, “Peter was the opposite. Peter would shovel your driveway if that’s what it took.”

Under Hahn’s leadership, SDOT improved its capacity to respond to snowstorms, switching to a salt solution that would be effective at lower temperatures, and adding new sensors and a snow prediction system developed in partnership with the University of Washington.

Under Hahn, SDOT completed the Spokane Street viaduct with savings that could be directed to other maintenance work. He oversaw the conversion of Mercer to a two-way thoroughfare, and his department updated the transit master plan and completed bike and pedestrian master plans. The department has also managed planning and the start of construction for the $290 million seawall project.

McGinn may have made Hahn’s job tougher. The outgoing mayor made transportation one of his highest priorities, but he opposed several major projects already well under way, including the deep-bore tunnel and a widened 520 bridge that put him at odds with other regional leaders and made it hard to win support for his own initiatives. Voters soundly approved going forward with the tunnel in 2011, and they rejected a $60 car-tab measure to fund transportation projects, including planning for light rail, championed by McGinn.

McGinn famously called his first news conference on the waterfront to urge a bond measure to rebuild the aging seawall, and asked SDOT staffers to hold up a single prop, a chewed piece of wood from the seawall. At the time, there wasn’t a detailed engineering study for the project or a firm cost estimate, and the City Council took the next two years to prepare plans for the measure which ultimately passed with more than 70 percent support.

Hahn also has served as the Snohomish County transportation director.

Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter contributed to this post.

Comments | More in Local government, Politics Northwest | Topics: director, ed murray, Peter Hahn

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