Cuomo Taps Joan McDonald to Run State DOT

Joan McDonald, the new head of the state DOT. Image:
Joan McDonald, the new head of the state DOT. Image: ##|

Joan McDonald will serve as the next commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, Governor Cuomo announced this morning (after the General Contractors Association spilled the beans in its own press release praising the pick).

McDonald has a lengthy resume of government service in the Tri-State region. She is currently the commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development. Prior to that, McDonald served as the senior vice president of transportation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation between 2003 and 2007 and the deputy commissioner for planning and traffic operations at the city DOT under Giuliani. In the early 1990s, McDonald worked as a special assistant to State Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin and director of capital and long-range planning for the Metro-North Railroad.

The late 90s weren’t a period of extensive innovation at the city DOT and McDonald wasn’t known for rocking the boat. That said, when McDonald was rumored to be the pick for city DOT commissioner in 2007, she was described as “sympathetic to pedestrian, traffic-calming and livable streets issues” and was greeted with enthusiasm by livable streets advocates. Four years ago, of course, expectations for transportation bureaucrats were not as high as they are today.

No matter what, McDonald has a full plate. As Richard Ravitch laid out in a report last year, the state’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund is essentially bankrupt, with most of its revenues going toward debt service and the rest to administrative costs and some basic operating expenses. It’s billions of dollars short of even maintaining a state of good repair on the roads, much less tackling mega-projects like a new Tappan Zee Bridge.

McDonald and the rest of the Cuomo transportation team also have important policy decisions facing them. Will McDonald vigorously implement the state’s new smart growth bill and stop wasting scarce dollars on destructive sprawl? Will she support replacing the under-used Sheridan Expressway with housing, jobs, and parkland?

Cuomo also announced today that Yomika Bennett will be the state’s next assistant secretary of transportation. She is currently the director of state and local relations for the state DOT and before that was the executive director for Assembly Transportation Committee chair David Gantt.