In 1989, the Washington region was growing quickly, with new and mounting demands being placed on its transportation system. Funding was tight, and planners and elected officials at the Transportation Planning Board were looking for ways to do more with less. In December of that year, a successful national policy researcher from the Urban Institute named Jerry Miller joined the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to serve its department of transportation planning and the TPB.
Fast-forward 25 years and the region is facing many of the same challenges, including sustained growth, limited funding, and increasing demands on an aging transportation system. But Miller, now with more than a quarter of a century of service to the TPB, and a career spanning more than 40 years, is looking to turn the page to a new chapter of life: retirement. As he does, he leaves COG and the TPB with many valuable contributions that better position the organizations to address key ongoing regional challenges.
Miller’s decision to join COG in 1989 came mostly from a desire to continue working alongside Ron Kirby, with whom he had previously worked very closely at the Urban Institute, a progressive policy think-tank in Washington, DC. Kirby became COG’s director of transportation planning in 1987 and served in that post until his death in 2013.
Miller’s decision was also influenced heavily by a desire to give back to the region he called home, and to engage in work that promised significant intellectual interest because of its cross-jurisdictional and inter-disciplinary nature.
As Kirby’s de facto second-in-command, Miller was put in charge of a hulking portfolio of responsibilities. Soon after he arrived, he assumed chief authority over the TPB’s annual work plan and budget, a position in which he was under constant pressure to stretch and make the most of available funding, both to respond to growing federal responsibilities as well as to carry out new projects of particular interest to the Board. His success in this endeavor over the last 25 years is among Miller’s most significant contributions.
Another major contribution got its start in 1994, when Miller oversaw the development of the TPB’s first fiscally constrained long-range transportation plan, then a new requirement under federal law. Since that time, he has overseen dozens of updates to the plan, each with scores of detailed additions and changes. The updates require the highest level of coordination to ensure compliance with federal planning requirements.
Developing the long-range plan also periodically required a detailed financial analysis meant to bring a dose of reality to the region’s dreams for the future. Miller took charge of that analysis, too, which he saw as very important and necessary, especially in an age of increasingly limited funding for major new transportation investments. Miller considers his work on these financial analyses to be one of the most valuable accomplishments in his career, and the framework he established continues to guide long-range planning today.
Miller’s contributions hardly stopped at budget expertise, long-range plan development, and financial analysis. He also oversaw the administration of several grant programs, including federal ones aimed at serving transportation disadvantaged individuals and regional ones to promote more integrated transportation and land-use planning. He supervised the TPB’s public participation activities, including the Citizens Advisory Committee and Community Leadership Institute, and coordinated with other COG departments on cross-disciplinary projects ranging from integrated transportation and land-use scenario planning to identifying regional greenhouse gas reduction strategies.
Over the last 25 years, Miller also orchestrated more than 200 monthly meetings of both the TPB and the TPB’s Technical Committee -- developing meeting agendas, coordinating briefing memos and presentations, and guiding high-level discussions and decision-making from behind the scenes. Miller says that that behind-the-scenes work has been some of the most satisfying because of the opportunities it afforded him to interact with some of the region’s most intelligent, thoughtful, and dedicated elected officials.
Of everything Miller contributed to COG in his 25 years, however, one thing stands out the most. Following the sudden and unexpected death of Ron Kirby in 2013, Miller stepped up to assume many of the duties that had belonged to the long-time director. He shared those responsibilities with another long-time COG transportation staffer, Bob Griffiths. Together, the two veterans brought much-needed stability and continuity to the department, and oversaw the completion of one of Kirby’s final major accomplishments, the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan.
Outside of his official duties and achievements, Miller brought one other special quality to the office that is important to mention here: a genuine warmth and compassion toward his colleagues, especially the dozen or so planners and administrative staff who he supervised directly. His keen interest in the health and happiness of his employees was captured in a mantra he repeated often: "Health first, family second, work third."
As he prepares to leave the working world behind, we wish Jerry all the health and happiness that he, too, deserves. Whether it’s playing more basketball, taking trips around the world with his wife Zana, or spending more time with his children and grandchildren, we say: “Good luck. And enjoy!”