Peter Rogoff Departing Sound Transit Leadership in Early 2022

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Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff speaks at a special press conference on September 22nd at U District Station. (Credit: Natalie Bicknell Argerious / The Urbanist)

Sound Transit’s Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff will be departing from the agency by the end of May 2022. In a surprising turn, the agency’s board of directors chose not to renew Rogoff’s contract. Instead, the board opted to immediately open the CEO role to a nationwide search process and keep Rogoff on an interim basis to facilitate a transition.

Earlier this month, the board met to consider Rogoff’s employment with the agency. The board went into a very long executive session to consider Rogoff’s performance and action on a one-year contract extension that could then be extended twice more. The board eventually came back to announce that action on the contract would be tabled until the next full board meeting this afternoon. In essence a replay today, the board went into another long executive session before returning to take action on Rogoff’s employment with the agency.

Board Chair Kent Keel was first up to speak saying that Rogoff had told him and others that he, Rogoff, didn’t see himself remaining in the CEO role beyond the end of 2022. Keel pointed to the important body of work that lays ahead for the agency as justification for ending the agency’s relationship with Rogoff sooner rather than a year from now. The agency just wrapped a very tumultuous realignment process that could salvage most of the timelines for Sound Transit 3 transit projects despite somewhat bleak financial straights right now.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Chair Keel reiterated his rationale to start anew. “Given the volume and intensity of current and upcoming work and the agency’s needs and interests, the Sound Transit Board has exercised its discretion to proceed immediately to initiating a national search to select the agency’s next successful leader,” he said. “Now is a strategic time to identify our next CEO ahead of work to open light rail to the Eastside in 2023 and to Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Downtown Redmond in 2024.” 

Some boardmembers wanted to keep Rogoff on, such as Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, Everett City Councilmember Paul Roberts, and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. Other boardmembers reminisced about their time on the board and Rogoff’s tenure, offering kind words about shared successes. But it wasn’t enough.

In two rounds of voting, the board adopted Chair Keel’s substitute motion to approve a transition. Under the terms of the agreement, Rogoff will continue as CEO through the end of year and then be retained as CEO on an interim basis between January 1, 2022 and May 31, 2022, though the arrangement could sunset earlier if certain “transitional and/or operational benchmarks” are deemed completed by the board. Rogoff will be paid a base salary of $32,740.51 per month, provided a $416.33 per month business expense allowance, up to $18,000 for employment transition services, receive standard benefits, and leave with a one-year severance package.

Rogoff joined the agency in 2016 after a national search to replace long-time CEO Joni Earl who became seriously injured in a collision that turned out badly and eventually forced her into retirement. Prior to Sound Transit, Rogoff was the Federal Transit Administrator from 2009 to 2014 and Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy from July 2014 to December 2015 under President Barack H. Obama.

During his almost six years with Sound Transit, Rogoff has navigated many political obstacles at the federal, state, and local levels using his prior federal experience. He has been highly adept at securing federal funding for expansion projects, fending off funding cuts by the state legislature, and brokering agreements to see local projects through.

Rogoff presided over the agency when it embarked on an ambitious plan to vastly expand transit through Sound Transit 3, a measure that 54% of voters backed and precipitated an immense scope of new planning and project development work. He saw through the opening of the Angle Lake and University of Washington Link light rail extensions in 2016 and will see through the Northgate Link extension, which opens October 2nd.

In between his victories, however, Rogoff hasn’t been without controversy or above criticism by people who know him personally. Some people chafed at his brash “East Coast” style when he arrived because of how abrasive it was. He also had allegations of inappropriate behavior leveled against him by female employees. The charges almost cost him his job in 2018, but he was put on a coaching program to improve his leadership skills.

Still, the diciest time of Rogoff’s tenure has been the last year when the agency faced a pandemic-induced funding shortfall and then daylighted serious project cost increases that consultants have highlighted as flawed cost estimate methodologies. The latest year-long realignment process had no doubt put chinks in his armor but he was able to thread the needle and see it mostly wrap up amicably in August. On that basis, it seemed like he might keep his job, but it’s not so.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.

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