State Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey will step down at the end of the month, three years after his appointment by Governor Deval Patrick. Davey’s tenure brought a sense of stability to the department following the resignations of three of his predecessors within three years.
Patrick called Davey’s departure a loss to the state. “Rich has been such a pivotal member of our team and so effective at solving problems and advancing the transportation and economic agenda,” Patrick said.
Davey, whose last day on the job will be Oct. 31, said in an interview Thursday that he plans to travel with his wife and will look for a new job in the private sector.
Asked why he did not stay on through the end of Patrick’s term in January 2015, Davey likened his tenure to an endurance test.
“When you train to run a marathon and you’ve hit 26.2 miles, it’s almost mentally and physically impossible to run a quarter mile more,” he said.
Davey said he is proud of a legacy made up of things big and small, saying he believes the public is now more trusting of the Transportation Department, which had lost goodwill after controversies surrounding the Big Dig.
“We’ve earned back the public trust, but that’s precious and can be lost pretty quickly,” said Davey. “You have to be honest with people and not be afraid to talk to the citizen.”
Patrick chose Davey, then the general manager of the T and former head of the commuter rail service, to replace Jeffrey B. Mullan, whose planned resignation for personal financial reasons was announced after a controversy erupted regarding his agency’s failure to disclose information about a 110-pound light fixture that fell in a Big Dig tunnel in 2011.
It was not long after the 2009 creation of a large transportation organization, which became the entity in charge of the Massachusetts Turnpike, the MBTA, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. As transportation secretary, Davey oversaw nearly 10,000 employees.
Representative Bill Straus, cochairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, said Davey’s legacy will be largely defined in terms of getting the new MassDOT up and running.
“We have a much more powerful secretary who is tasked with overseeing a huge operation,” Straus said, “and he has done it well.”
Stephen Silveira, a vice president at consulting firm ML Strategies and a longtime leader in the transportation community, said Davey has been an effective executive who was able to balance his responsibilities.
“It’s a really, really tough job because you have the day-to-day transportation impacts,” he said, “as well as the incredibly expensive long-term planning that you need to get ahead of.”
Many transportation advocates have lauded Davey’s fight for more dedicated transportation funding, as have tax watchdogs.
Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association, said Davey was a visible and articulate spokesperson for investments in the system.
“He carried that message broadly across the state and in a compelling way,” Widmer said. “He put transportation front and center as a major policy issue.”
As the clock runs down on Patrick’s term, Davey and the governor have announced various expansion projects that future administrations could decide not to pursue. The governor’s office and the MBTA announced plans earlier this month for a new commuter rail station in the Allston neighborhood, and Davey said he will announce other plans in the coming weeks.
Though Davey said he is worried about the ballot question that, if successful, would repeal automatic gas tax increases, he said he was not concerned about future administrations scuttling the projects begun under his watch.
“Much of what we put forward the last few years were not wants, but needs,” Davey said. “That’s why I’m confident much of what we’ve laid the groundwork for will continue.”
Highway Administrator Frank DePaola will be appointed acting secretary, according to an administration official.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Stephen Silveira, a vice president at the consulting firm ML Strategies. The earlier version did not provide full context about the departure of the previous secretary, Jeffrey B. Mullan. The news of his planned resignation for personal financial reasons was announced after a controversy regarding a 110-pound light fixture that fell in a Big Dig tunnel in 2011.