Local

Phillip Washington, Denver transit chief, to become Metro's new CEO

Phillip Washington, CEO of Denver’s Regional Transportation District since 2009, has been picked to oversee the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the board announced on Thursday, March 12, 2015.
Phillip Washington, CEO of Denver’s Regional Transportation District since 2009, has been picked to oversee the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the board announced on Thursday, March 12, 2015.
Courtesy of Metro

Phillip Washington, the head of Denver’s regional transit agency, has been appointed the next chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Washington, CEO of Denver’s Regional Transportation District since 2009, has been picked to oversee L.A. County's transit agency, which boasts an average weekday ridership of 1.4 million, a fleet of 2,000 clean air buses, six rail lines and numerous construction projects, including five new rail lines, the I-5 widening and other major projects.

“Phil Washington is the ideal person to manage our $36 billion transportation infrastructure program to ease congestion, cut smog and boost our economy for decades to come,” Mayor Eric Garcetti, who also chairs the Metro Board of Directors, said in a statement Thursday.

In Denver, Washington helped oversee an agency budget of $2.8 billion and managed more than $5 billion in transit expansion projects during his watch, according to the statement.

“I am excited to help Mayor Garcetti and the Metro Board deliver the best possible transit experience and infrastructure for the L.A. area,” Washington said.

The two regional transit agencies share a number of similarities, according to Ethan Elkind, a researcher at UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools, who wrote a history of Metro Rail called "Railtown." That could help to explain some of Washington's appeal.

Both cities are in the midst of building booms that have been funded by sales tax measures.

Measure R, a sales tax measure passed in 2008 that has helped fund dozens of transit, highway and other transportation projects in Los Angeles, was in fact modeled after the one in Denver, Elkind told KPCC's Steve Julian.

"Washington has had to oversee this rail-building boom in Denver, make sure that it gets built on time and under budget, which has been a challenge there, frankly," Elkind said.

In addition, Elkind said, such large-scale expansion brings with it a lot of political pressure. Residents across the region often want trains to come to their area, but railways can end up being placed in communities that are politically powerful even if it's not as cost effective to build there.

"So it’s an unfortunate dynamic when you think of the best use of public funds, but it’s something that I think Washington hopefully will have experience [with] coming in to Los Angeles from Denver, with that same dynamic," Elkind said.

According to Metro, Washington's achievements include:

Washington is originally from the south side of Chicago and served 24 years in the U.S. Army, attaining the highest rank a non-commissioned officer can achieve, according to Metro.

This story has been updated.