Insider Named MDOT Chief at Key Time

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2009

Beverley K. Swaim-Staley wants Washington area commuters to know she has lived their misery.

She, too, has lost hours of her life to a crawling Capital Beltway and has experimented with dozens of routes trying to avoid it. She said she has switched between buses and Metro trains and carpools in search of a better way.

"I'm very familiar with, and absolutely know, the pain of the Washington region," Swaim-Staley said with a laugh about her four-year commute between her home in Anne Arundel County and her former job in Rockville as Montgomery County's budget director, which she held until 2007. "I think I had 50 ways to get to work."

Today, Swaim-Staley's commute takes her to the Maryland Transportation Department headquarters in Anne Arundel. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) appointed her this month to be the state's transportation secretary, the first woman to hold the post. She joins the growing ranks of nine women who lead state transportation agencies long dominated by male engineers.

Swaim-Staley's career as a budget analyst and the political skills she honed during two stints as the state's deputy transportation secretary are being put to the test. As in many other states, Maryland leaders are searching for new ways to pay for road and transit projects as traditional sources of revenue -- gas taxes and vehicle-titling fees -- dry up along with driving and car-buying because of the recession.

In the past year, Swaim-Staley, 52, has helped cut more than $2 billion in projects from the state's transportation funding plans. In August, Maryland's Board of Public Works approved $159 million in reductions for county road projects.

"The relatively easy things [to cut] have been done," said John D. Porcari, Swaim-Staley's predecessor, who joined the Obama administration in May as deputy U.S. transportation secretary. "There aren't many options left. As with her colleagues around the nation, she's looking at very difficult choices."

As deputy secretary, she also oversaw Maryland's highways, toll facilities and MARC train service as well as daily operations at two airports, the Baltimore Port and the Motor Vehicle Administration.

Swaim-Staley, who has worked at MDOT for a dozen years periodically since 1993, is widely described by former and current colleagues as smart, thorough and straightforward. She has few vocal critics. Before O'Malley tapped her as acting secretary to replace Porcari, she had worked mostly behind the scenes and was best known for her budgeting expertise. Swaim-Staley is not well-known beyond the Annapolis State House, the agency's headquarters near Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport or Montgomery's county office building.

"Right now, having someone with a good handle on budgeting is critical, someone who knows where the money is and how to maximize it," said Lon Anderson, director of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the environmental group 1000 Friends of Maryland, agreed: "It's a good time to have an insider."

Anderson and other transportation activists said they want to see how Swaim-Staley handles any attempts by O'Malley or state lawmakers to shore up other parts of Maryland's beleaguered budget by tapping into the transportation trust fund.

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