On January 27, 1993, the state Transportation Commission names Sid Morrison (b. 1933) as Secretary of Transportation to replace retiring Secretary Duane Berentson (1928-2013). Morrison, a Zillah resident, was a politician before accepting the position as head of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Elected to the Washington State Legislature in 1967, he became a state senator representing Yakima in 1974, and in 1980 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Washington's Fourth Congressional District. In 1992, Morrison ran for governor, but lost in the primary. During his tenure as Secretary of Transportation (1993-2001), Morrison reorganized the department to get it away from its highway focus and assume a greater role in freight and passenger rail, aviation, ferries, bicycle trails, and mass transit.
Working the Farm and Congress
Sidney Wallace Morrison, born May 13, 1933, was raised on an orchard pioneered by his grandfather in Zillah, Washington, a small town 10 miles southeast of Yakima. The farm grows apples and cherries, and at its height employed up to 800 workers during the harvest. Morrison graduated with a bachelor's degree in agriculture from Washington State University in 1954, served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1956, and then worked for the family Morrison Fruit Company in various capacities until 1967, when he was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives in the 15th Legislative District, where he led the fight to extend unemployment benefits in the wake of the Boeing bust. In 1974, Morrison was elected to the Washington State Senate, and in 1980, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the 4th Congressional District (all of central Washington).
Morrison met Marcella Britton in grade school and married his seventh grade sweetheart in June 1955 while he was serving at Fort Rodriguez in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Marcella, a Whitman College graduate, ran the farm while Morrison "worked" the Congress. Together they have four children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
While in Congress, Morrison concentrated on opening world markets, irrigation development, forestry, energy projects and environmental concerns. He helped secure federal money for major road projects, but got flak for his support of Hanford Nuclear Reservation activities, even though the Hanford Nuclear Reservation had the largest payroll in his (the 4th) district. He surprised environmentalists in March 1984 for proposing designated wilderness areas in the state. His 1.5-million-acre plan for various designations across the state was rejected, but the 170,000-acre Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Area came of this work.
The Cascade Curtain
Morrison considered running for the Senate seat vacated by Dan Evans in 1988, but decided against it after a poll showed that 44 percent of state voters would not support a candidate from Eastern Washington. But in 1991 he decided to run for Governor after learning that Booth Gardner wouldn't be seeking a second term. He hoped to break the "Cascade Curtain" that prevents Eastern Washington candidates from being elected to statewide offices, but lost in the primary to Attorney General Ken Eikenberry, who in turn lost to Mike Lowry for Governor on November 3, 1992. No Washington governor has been from Eastern Washington since Clarence Martin left office in 1941.
Morrison wasn't out of a job for long, though. In response to his appointment as Secretary of Transportation in January 1993, Morrison said, "I'm not going to turn the place upside down, but I want to vouch to the citizens of the state that they are going to get a good buy from their Transportation Department' (Higgins, 1993).
Sweeping Changes at WSDOT
Perhaps not turning the department completely upside down, Morrison proposed a sweeping agency-wide reorganization in May 1994 to steer the department away from a continuing highway focus to assume a greater role in "multi-modal: transport: freight and passenger rail, aviation, ferries, bicycle trails, and mass-transit. The first seeds of this new department direction and focus-switch had been planted by Department head George Andrews (1969-1975). William A. Bulley (1975-1981) strengthened the department's direction towards the new focus, as did Morrison's predecessor, Duane Berentson (1981-1993).
Morrison tried to do away with the old hierarchy and give employees more decision-making power in order to reduce paperwork, to reduce the number of staff meetings required, and to increase the department's efficiency and employee work output with the reduction of bureaucracy. He got the agency started on new concepts like public-private partnerships and design-build contracts, built new ferries, and "set the stage" (Morrison) for additional funding from the Legislature.
When the Legislature disbanded the Washington State Energy Office in 1996, WDSOT was charged with overseeing the state Commute Trip Reduction Law (CTR). Within the department, compressed workweeks, flextime, and telecommuting became more widely used. These options have increased employee performance, recruitment, and retention. In 2000, WSDOT had the lowest employee turnover of any state agency. Gary Demich, Regional Administrator, said "It takes time to bring lasting organizational change to every corner of a large agency. We're a big ship that's slowly turning" (WSU).
Significant Department of Transportation events during Morrison's time as secretary include:
- In the fall of 1994, the first grain train -- grain-hauling rail cars -- rolled out of Walla Walla.
- In the spring of 1996, the Transportation Commission adopted a first-ever 20-year transportation plan.
- In January 1997, the cable-stayed bridge over the Thea Foss waterway in Tacoma opened.
- In May 1997 the Johnston Ridge Observatory and the final section of the Mount St. Helens Memorial Highway (State Route 504) opened.
- By November 1997 "road rage" had become a significant enough problem to prompt the Transportation Commission to ask Governor Locke and Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson to put road rage issues into driver education classes. The Washington State Patrol's Aggressive Driver Apprehension Program began in July 1998.
- On November 3, 1998, state voters passed Referendum 49, a legislature-proposed reallocation of funds to fund $2.3 billion in transportation projects and reduce the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET).
- On November 3, 1998, and on November 18, Morrison approved $350 million for a second Tacoma Narrows Bridge after voters in seven counties approved the expenditure in the general election.
- In June 1999, the Dosewallips Bridge was moved on rollers 41 feet east.
- In 1999 federal money helped WSDOT put up cameras at White, Satus, and Blewett passes. The cameras can be accessed via the WSDOT website.
- In November 1999, the passage of Initiative 695 capped the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) at $30 a year.
- In January 2000, Flexcar, the reserved car service for short urban trips, debuted.
- On September 18, 2000, the Sound Transit Sounder train began service between Tacoma and Seattle.
- Shortly before Morrison retired, on February 28, 2001, the Nisqually earthquake caused over $1 billion in damages.
Morrison retired in 2001, and since then has chaired, presided over, or served on a number of boards, including Energy Northwest (a power producer that uses nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, and bio-mass conversion energies), the Rainier Institute, the Tri-Cities Local Business Association, the Federal Engineers and Constructors, and the Mainstream Republicans of Washington. In 2003 he was named to the Central Washington University Board of Trustees. He still lives on the Zillah orchard with his wife, though all the farm land has been sold or leased out.