Well, I guess this is goodbye.
As you might imagine, I have many different feelings about my imminent (July 31) retirement from Caltrans: pride in a career spent working among the finest group of people in the transportation field; sadness that I will no longer be a “Caltransian;” anticipation of the next chapter in my life (I'll be working in the private sector); and optimism about the future of this organization.
Throughout my time here, I’ve worked in many divisions and districts and I have to say that, all in all, it’s been a great ride.
One of the areas in which Caltrans particularly excels is emergency response. We have so many technical experts and talented people! We currently have an emergency response exhibit in the District 7 museum, which I urge all of you to visit. You will be amazed at the daring, skill and heroism our people have shown in the face of perilous situations.
In a rapidly-changing transportation environment, one thing you can always rely on is that Caltrans is usually many steps ahead of the pack. We’re the originators of innovations and practices that everyone else now follows. Of course, Caltrans is a big organization, so we do experience bureaucratic hiccups from time to time but we’re also super good at what we do. And, rather than take the easy way, we always try to do things the right way.
I will certainly miss being at the cutting edge of mobility improvement but what I will miss most is the people I work with—world leaders in transportation advancement. Planners from all different countries come here to see how we do it because in many cases we did it first. I’m thinking of project management, design, bridge maintenance, technology – you name it. Caltrans manages the most complex freeway and highway system in the country, if not the world.
When I attend national meetings of ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) America’s Transportation Research Board, I always hear “we need someone from California on this panel.” Caltrans people are sought after. And that’s going to be hard to give up – to be included in the elite group that you all comprise.
I was asked recently to name the accomplishment of which I am most proud. Of course, none of the district’s accomplishments belong to me because you were the ones who achieved them. But what comes to mind is the fact that Caltrans always puts public safety in the forefront. Although we’ve had so many Greatest Hits, I think about our lightning-fast rebuilding of the Paramount Bridge after a tanker truck set it on fire. And, how could we ever forget Carmageddon, the bridge demolition heard round the world? I don’t think you could pick a more complex project than that one in terms of the amount of traffic involved, the numbers of people affected, and the overall visibility.
I am also extremely proud of the way we managed during the economic downturn. We survived. We did it while still providing the services that were needed. We delivered our projects on time, we responded to emergencies and we continued to maintain the roads despite having our Maintenance division nearly cut in half. We continued, through furloughs and cutbacks and reduced supplies, to go that extra mile and that includes every Caltrans employee. Not only did we continue to fulfill our contract with the public but we stayed a family.
But there are big challenges ahead for our organization. We have to maneuver Caltrans so that it continues to be the premier transportation leader that it is. One of the ways to do that is to make sure that our partnerships with others are intact and that we provide our clients with what they need in a timely manner. And we have to learn to walk in other people’s shoes. It’s really easy to point the finger and blame our colleagues at other agencies but it’s important to remember that they are under immense pressure too.
If I were to predict what Caltrans might look like in 10 years, I would assume that we would have a more stable funding source, whether through toll roads, gas tax increases, or other revenue-generating means. We will keep learning to operate our system better and smarter with more advanced technology. Caltrans will continue to embrace partnerships and will be a better organization for that. We will collaborate, as we are on the $1 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement, which is being built by Caltrans, the Port of Long Beach, the federal government and Metro.
While I don’t think that any one agency will be running everything in the future, Caltrans is going to have to guide those collaborations. We still are the ultimate owner and the only agency that works directly with the federal government on highway projects. Only Caltrans has the breadth and perspective to look at the state as a whole and represent those larger interregional interests.
We will still be one of the greatest engineering organizations in the world and I don’t see that changing. So, keep up the excellent work, stay safe and I’ll see you around.