Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New leadership for ODOT

It looks like the standard MO for ODOT will be changing sooner rather then later. According to a press release through Hannah News Wire, the new ODOT head, James Beasely, will be pursuing a more sustainable approach for Ohio's transportation projects. (See highlighted comments below.)
What this means for Cleveland and the Innerbelt project remains to be seen. Stay tuned...

Strickland Pick Augurs Policy Changes at ODOT
Hannah News Wire

The governor's office has maintained a general position of neutrality about many of the recommendations from his transition team review of state agencies, but an announcement Monday would appear to signal a new policy direction atthe Ohio Department of Transportation.

Gov. Strickland said longtime Brown County Engineer James Beasley, who happened to have served as transition team coordinator for ODOT, will become the department's new director effective March 5.

"Jim understands that an efficient and reliable transportation network contributes to and enhances economic growth," said Strickland of his 30-year acquaintance. "I am confident that he will not only be a tremendous leader in developing and maintaining safe roads for Ohioans, but will guide the department in a way that helps create jobs."

Strickland's comment points back to recommendations in Beasley's ODOT transition team report, which among other conclusions indicated the department would have to consider additional payroll cuts of one and a half percent along with other reductions to offset rising fuel and material costs and dwindling federal funding. Staffing cuts alone could save ODOT $70 million through 2010, noted the report.

Beasley's report said fiscal soul-searching would also be necessary to realign priorities around "multi-modal" transportation facilities and away from a limited focus on Ohio's primary arteries. "ODOT changed its name many years ago, but many believe it still thinks of itself as a highway department," noted the report. "ODOT needs to embrace a multi-modal economically driven project selection process that serves all of Ohio. This process needs to realize that land use patterns are a direct result of the transportation system serving them. Planning and decision making should be weighted toward containing urban sprawl."

The statement echoes that of Executive-in Residence Thomas Bier of Cleveland State University's College of Urban Affairs, who brought a significantly different perspective to testimony before the Eminent Domain Task Force last year. He said transportation and land-use practices would continue the erosion of not only Ohio's major cities but also its first- and second-ring suburbs.

"State government aggravates the situation by facilitating and promoting the development of new communities (by, for example, widening highways and building interchanges, which are powerful boosters of development) and then disregarding the deleterious effects on old communities ...."

Beasley's report offered one solution to the problem:

"Thought should be given to creating an integrated network of multi-modal facilities that seamlessly links Ohio's citizens, businesses, railways, highways, and port facilities into the most efficient transportation system possible. Ohio can be a premier gateway to international commerce and a hub for the nation's freight."
The report said state projects under ODOT would need to work with local mass transit to make this vision a reality.

As to questions over the state turnpike that became prominent in the 2006 gubernatorial election, transition team recommendations noted that, "the general consensus of stakeholders is that the turnpike is well run and provides an important transportation link in northern Ohio."

"Businesses are in business to make money," noted Beasley's report. "The only way to make money on the turnpike, if privatized, is to raise tolls or lower operating costs. Neither of these scenarios is good. But, if this would be a logical outcome, why can't the public sector do it and realize a profit?"

The 57-year-old Beasley will bring more than three decades of experience in transportation planning and construction to the various issues facing ODOT. He has served as Brown County engineer since 1980 and was previously the county's deputy engineer between 1975-1979. He served as the sole proprietor for Beasley Engineer and Surveying between 1975-1984 and worked for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources from 1973 to 1975. He graduated from The Ohio State University in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and earned his master's degree in hydraulic and hydrologic engineering OSU in 1973.

Beasley has also served two separate terms as vice chair and chair of the District 15 Ohio Public Works Committee. He has been awarded a life membership by the Township Trustees Association of Brown County and has received an Awardof Merit for Outstanding Accomplishments in Resource Conservation from the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District. In 2000, he was recognized by ODOT for Covered Bridge Preservation.

He resides on a farm outside Georgetown with his wife, Alta.

"I am eager to work with our state's various regions and cities to ensure that all Ohioans have access to a quality, statewide transportation system," said Beasley. "This cooperation is absolutely necessary to ensure that economic development and job creation in every part of the state remain key priorities of ODOT."

Subject to the advice and consent of the Ohio Senate, Beasley will earn an annual salary of $124,758 as the state's new transportation director, the same amount as former ODOT Director Gordon Proctor.


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