New transportation secretary has her work cut out for her

SEATTLE -- Washington's new Secretary of Transportation inherited a truckload of problems, from bridges being built with cracked pontoons to an unprecedented level of disciplinary notices for employees.

Secretary Lynn Peterson shies away from calling herself a change agent or reformer, but she's clear that reform is what Gov. Jay Inslee had in mind when he appointed her.

"I think that we are working on building back some trust with the citizens of Washington," she said.

Peterson has already begun answering questions for the state Transportation Commission, traveled the state and made some big decisions. The biggest decision was spurred by construction defects and design flaws with the 520 Bridge pontoons, which are costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

"Yes, a mistake was made on 520 and we're working to correct that," she said.

Peterson hired Ron Paananen, a former Washington Department of Transportation manager, to put together an assessment of the state's three biggest projects: the 520 Bridge, the Alaska Way Viaduct and the Columbia River Crossing.

Together, the three projects will cost more than $10 billion. And design errors in the 520 Bridge and the Columbia River Crossing are already expected to cost more than $200 million to fix.

Paanenen is tasked with looking at all three projects for possible risks.

"We want to make sure that there's good processes in place so that some of those major decisions are well vetted before you get so far down the road that you're kind of locked in," he said.

Because Paanenen is a former insider, Peterson first big decision is already garnering criticism. In response, one of their second steps is to bring in true outsiders -- people who haven't worked for WSDOT -- to work on Paanenen's review team.

"There are a lot of folks in this field that have touched Wash-DOT in some way, so we're looking for folks that have not," he said.

Peterson didn't comment directly on the legislature's move to increase the gasoline tax, but she said her job in not to just "do business as usual," but to make sure taxpayers are getting the biggest bang for their buck.

See more from our 520 Bridge investigation >>>