Lopez Islander joins Transportation Commission

The Washington State Transportation Commission has been operating with just five people since Bob Distler and Elmira Forner left a few months ago. It got one back recently when the governor appointed Tom Cowan to take Distler’s place. Both are from the San Juan Islands. The commission provides a public forum for developing transporation policy,  sets tolls for highways and bridges and fares for ferries.

Distler had been on the commission since 2005 and was its ferry expert. It looks like Cowan might assume that role. He said in his introduction that “the ferry system is an important part of this (transportation) system, providing a vital link both in the San Juan Islands and throughout Puget Sound. Its future must be stabilized.”

Cowan has lived on Lopez Island for 36 years, was a San Juan County Commissioner, and owned the island’s only hardware store. Now he’s a public policy consultant and marine resources project manager.

Forner’s eastside position remains open. She’s from Chelan.

There’s been much talk lately about whether the commission should even exist. Some, like Tim Eyman, say its an appointed body and can’t be held accountable for its decisions. Others say it takes the politics out of toll- and fare-setting and does a lot of detail work that the Legislature doesn’t have time for.

Nobody’s been down on the commissioners themselves, though. They have to drive all over the place and sit in meeting after meeting, listening to dull policy discussions when they could be out goofing off. And they don’t get much for doing it.

It’s a pretty good bunch. Our local guy, Dan O’Neal of Belfair, is their voice of reason. Dick Ford and Distler, when he was there, were prone to getting into ranting matches with the public, which could be pretty entertaining, but O’Neal cuts through the rhetoric and gets everybody back on track.

was appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2005; he is the commission’s vice chairman. Previously, he was chairman of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee. According to his commission biography, his career has been in transportation management and he has been a consultant for airlines, cruise lines and railroads.