President-elect Joe Biden has tapped a familiar California figure to run his transportation transition team.
Phil Washington, the chief executive of Los Angeles County's transit agency, will oversee a panel of experts tasked with advising Biden on the direction of federal transportation policy and agencies, including Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Washington has led the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority through the planning and early construction of one of the country's most ambitious rail building booms, with five projects currently under construction and nearly a dozen other rail and bus projects slated to break ground in coming decades.
Much of the construction is being funded by revenue from Measure M, approved by more than 71% of voters in 2016. The sales tax increase, one of the largest local transportation funding efforts in American history, will raise an estimated $120 billion for transit and highway projects over its first four decades.
The measure is seen as a model for other cities looking to kick-start a transit system expansion, in part because federal grants for major transit projects typically arrive only after a local government has secured some of the money already.
Riders were already leaving L.A.'s sprawling bus network when Washington arrived in 2015, and the decline has continued during his tenure. The number of trips on buses fell more than 25% from the recent peak in 2009 to last year, before another sharp drop-off in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Metro is also embarking on two studies for ambitious and politically tricky concepts: whether to eliminate fares on the transit system and whether to charge fees to drivers to reduce traffic congestion, a scheme known as "congestion pricing."
Washington, a U.S. Army veteran, grew up in Chicago and previously worked as the general manager of Denver's transportation agency. He declined an interview request, saying he could not "speak to the press on behalf of the transition."
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who led the search that brought Washington to Metro, has been discussed as a potential Cabinet appointee, perhaps as Transportation secretary, in the Biden administration.
Last month, Garcetti told The Times that "it's more likely than not" that he will still be in L.A. in 2022, when his term as mayor expires.
Other members of Biden's transportation transition team include Polly Trottenberg, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, and Therese McMillan, previously Metro's chief planning officer, who runs the Bay Area's nine-county transportation planning agency.
In a post published Tuesday morning, Metro spokesman Steve Hymon wrote that the names of several Metro board members and officials had been "tossed around" for Cabinet posts or the U.S. Senate seat that will soon be vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
"My crystal ball is currently in the shop and I'm not going to add to speculation," he wrote. "But I will say this: a lot of the work we're doing at Metro continues to be closely watched around the country. It's definitely great to see California — with almost 12% of the nation's population — regain some seats at the proverbial table."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.