When he was Federal Transit Administration chief, Peter M. Rogoff in 2009 OK’d $813 million in federal grants to Seattle-area rail agency Sound Transit to boost construction of a regional light-rail line. Now the third-ranked U.S. Transportation Dept. honcho, the veteran transportation executive is leaving to lead Sound Transit itself, where his job will include persuading voters to fund, next November, more of that expansion. Named the agency’s CEO last month, he will replace, in January, Joni Earl, its longtime and much-touted chief who is retiring for health reasons.

Peter M. Rogoff
Peter M. Rogoff

“My goal is to build on the excellent reputation and execution Sound Transit has already delivered for the people of Puget Sound,” says Rogoff, terming it “a very high-functioning agency.” Among key tasks ahead for the former transportation under-secretary for policy is championing a revenue issue on the state’s 2016 ballot to fund the expansion up to $20 billion. Dow Constantine, Sound Transit board chairman, said Rogoff’s track record— Rogoff served for 22 years on the Senate Appropriations Committee staff, for example—will “help us navigate what are, in the best conditions, choppy waters.”

Rogoff steps in as permanent replacement for Earl, who had run Sound Transit since 2001 before taking a medical leave in 2014 because of leaking blood vessels in her brain, say published reports. She will be an agency consultant before retiring in March. Deputy CEO Mike Harbour, who did not apply for the top slot, continues as acting CEO until Rogoff’s arrival. “I’m not the best candidate,” Rogoff says. “The best candidate is a healthy Joni Earl.”

Earl became Sound Transit chief operating officer in 2000, as it struggled to build Seattle’s first light-rail line. The agency faced irate lawmakers, a two-year federal audit and withdrawal of millions of dollars in funding. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said that, in its early years, Sound Transit “was known for clumsy real estate acquisitions, an inability to get a handle on costs … and management given to nervous self-praise.”

Since being tapped for the top job just months after her arrival, Earl “maintained morale, bucked up faith in [the] value of rail transit, and demanded much more careful staff work on budget, construction plans and costs,” said Crosscut, a reader-supported, non-profit electronic journal in the Northwest, last month. “She went public with bad news, issuing sharply revised construction schedules and admitting the agency could only complete some two-thirds of the rail work it had promised voters in 1996.” 

According to Rogoff, Sound Transit is now one of only three U.S. regions that recognize the need to plan for growth. It is on track to open more than 30 new miles of voter-approved light-rail extensions by 2023, creating a 50-mile regional system. “I am proud of the many accomplishments our outstanding staff racked up during the 15 years that I’ve led this agency,” Earl says in a statement.