L.A. Mayor Garcetti hopes to tap Denver transit chief as Metro CEO

Art Leahy is leaving Metro next month after six years as chief executive.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor and Metro board chairman Eric Garcetti hopes to hire Denver’s transportation chief as the next head of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to sources familiar with the process.

Choosing Phil Washington of the Denver Regional Transportation District would cap a two-month search for a replacement for Arthur Leahy, who announced in January that he would step down in April after six years as chief executive.

Leahy oversaw the expansion of the sprawling Metro bus and rail network after the passage of Measure R, the half-cent sales tax that will fund more than $30 billion in transportation improvements.

Washington has been general manager of the Denver RTD since 2009, and spent a decade before that as assistant general manager. He submitted his resignation letter Wednesday morning, RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas told The Times, but did not say where he was headed next.


Other finalists for the Metro position include Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty and Steve Banta, who runs Phoenix’s transportation agency, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about personnel matters.

Metro spokesman Marc Littman said it would be “premature” to say anything before Thursday’s board meeting, when Metro’s board of directors will meet in closed session to discuss who to hire.

“No votes have been cast, so no decision has been made,” Littman said.

Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said he couldn’t comment on personnel matters, and that “the board will make the decision.”

Garcetti’s staff has been in contact with Washington for at least a year, a source familiar with the matter said, with an aide making at least one trip to Denver to meet with him in person. Garcetti spoke with Washington over the phone in January, according to the mayor’s public calendars.

In a statement sent to The Times in February, Garcetti said Metro needs a leader with “extensive experience managing a large agency, including overseeing operations and construction” and a track record of successfully lobbying for federal money for construction projects.

In Denver, Washington has secured more than $1 billion in federal grants for transit expansion, the RTD said. And much like Leahy, he manages an agency in the midst of a multi-billion-dollar expansion. A decade ago, Colorado voters approved a sales tax to build 140 miles of rail and bus rapid-transit service. Next year, the agency will cut the ribbon on four new rail lines and a bus rapid-transit line.

Metro is on the cusp of asking for a new sales tax or the extension of an existing levy to fund more transportation improvements, including a possible rail and highway tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass.

Washington also oversaw Denver’s first public-private partnership for transit, a $2.2-billion commuter rail network that will be built, paid for and operated by a private company. That makes him a strong candidate for the Metro job, the sources said, because Los Angeles County may seek private-sector financing for some of its more ambitious projects, including the Sepulveda Pass tunnel.

The website LA Observed first reported the news about Washington, citing a memo sent out late Tuesday from the Los Angeles County Business Federation.

In Denver, Washington made a base salary of $285,000, according to his contract.

At Metro, Leahy received a $310,000 salary, a housing allowance of $20,000 and 20 days of paid time off a year. From Metro, he will receive $66,000 a year for life in retirement benefits.

Leahy’s contract expires April 5. He is considered a front-runner to lead Metrolink, Southern California’s troubled commuter rail agency.

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