What’s Next for New York State DOT?

glynn.jpgState DOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn

On Monday, state DOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn tendered her resignation, leaving the agency’s top job during a critical period for statewide transportation policy. Governor Paterson engineered Glynn’s departure, according to the Daily News, following her three-week vacation to Borneo that came while DOT is still deciding how to spend its pot of federal stimulus cash. With state politicians also discussing solutions for the MTA budget crisis in tandem with funding for the state’s road and bridge program, crucial decisions will take shape without an established leader at the helm of the transportation agency.

"It comes at a tough time," Neysa Pranger of the Regional Plan Association said of Glynn’s departure. "It complicates things if there’s a leadership change at the head of DOT."

Progressive transportation advocates credit Glynn, who was appointed by Eliot Spitzer in 2007, with introducing a gradual shift in culture at the state DOT. "She didn’t start whipping everyone into shape immediately," said Tri-State Transportation Campaign director Kate Slevin. "She took a more measured approach."

One of the more noticeable changes transpired at DOT’s District 10 office, which covers Nassau and Suffolk counties. "Before Glynn took over, we would fight every single road project," said Eric Alexander, director of the smart growth organization Vision Long Island. "Communities would say,
‘We don’t want your transportation money, take your checks back.’"

The DOT’s plan to convert 15 miles of an east-west state road, Route 347, into a high-speed, limited access highway had met with particularly vociferous opposition for the better part of the past ten years. Under Glynn’s leadership, says Alexander, the change at the regional office "was like night and day." Smart growth advocates had a seat at the table. A new plan for 347 unveiled in January would create a "suburban boulevard" with a lower design speed, planted median, bus shelters, and a pedestrian and bicycle path. The regional office is now talking to businesses about building infill on big parking lots that line the road.

Glynn’s DOT had its lapses — witness the changes underway on the Staten Island Expressway, where $40 million in stimulus cash will be spent on auxiliary lanes and ramp adjustments, and a formerly exclusive busway just opened up to private cars — and in terms of institutional change, it didn’t match the rapid pace at New York City DOT under Janette Sadik-Khan. But the overall direction of the agency boded well for more sustainable transportation and land use policies in the state. Advocates hope her successor will build on that momentum and strengthen new programs like the "Smart Planning" initiative, an attempt to foster smart growth practices among municipalities.

Glynn’s resignation takes effect May 8, with first deputy commissioner Stanley Gee slated to take over until Paterson names a replacement. The next commissioner, says Alexander, should be someone "who’s looking at best practices, instead of old practices. The last thing
you want to do is take a step back."