Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Slogans won the war

If you ever needed a perfect example of what is wrong with local government, look no further than the Washington State Department of Transportation.

With much fanfare, they recently announced a contest. They wanted suggestions for how to do their job better. Their job, as I see it, is to move people and goods through and throughout the state. I’m sure that some consultant can come up with a better way of putting it, but their job is transportation, transit, transing in general and in particular. Moving people and things. Moving them here and there. Up and down. Across and between, without dropping anything.

I was assuming that the winning idea might be a new and more competitive bidding process. Maybe a new way of tying computers to traffic information and signaling so that we wouldn’t spend three minutes at a red light when absolutely no cars are approaching from the cross street. Or perhaps a better business model for the Ferry System, one that might produce enough revenue from twenty-two million users to pay for the boats.

But instead, the winning entry was—get ready for it—a slogan.

Why bother with delivering service or goods when you can talk your way out of it? Didn’t we beat the Germans in World War II with a really snappy slogan? Hell, if only the builders of the intercontinental railroad had had a good slogan, they could have built a train track across the country. I would have had a pretty tasty dinner, but those stupid farmers still are trying to grow things instead of coming up with a good ten word phrase that would deliver food to my table.

While it’s been five years since the quake that shook the viaduct, the Washington State Department of Transportation has done almost nothing—except pine for a slogan. The 520 bridge has developed cracks, but the DOT hasn’t developed a slogan—small wonder that they can’t move on the bridge.

Now that they have a slogan, they can really begin.

Oh, the winning slogan? I think it’s something like “The Washington State Department of Transportation: sure we’re slow and wasteful, but not as slow and not as wasteful as Sound Transit!”

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