The Metro board has announced its decision to offer the mass transit service's top position to Stephen Banta, currently in a senior position at TriMet, the transit authority for the Portland, Ore., metropolitan region.
If he accepts, Banta would replace present Metro chief executive Rick Simonetta, who decided to move on after a six-year stint in the Valley. Simonetta led the launch of light rail's initial 20-mile, $1.4 billion stretch across Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa.
Banta is executive director of operations for TriMet. With more than 23 years of industry experience, Banta has also served as the chief operations officer with the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh.
He told the Tribune Wednesday that if he and Metro agree upon a contract, he expects to transition into his new role by February.
"It's an exciting time for Metro, with a year of service under their belt, and I'm very pleased to get the opportunity to lead the system there," said Banta, who's been with TriMet since May 2007.
Banta said the chief executive's position was a "natural progression" for him in his transit career, taking on more responsibilities over the years.
He credited Simonetta for building "a solid foundation and successfully opening up a very controversial system."
Banta views himself as taking on a leadership role in building on that foundation to maintain light rail's operations and expand the system. He's also aware there's support for and opposition to the system here in the Valley. But he said he's worked in places like Oregon that overwhelmingly support mass transit as well as Pennsylvania, where it had its share of detractors.
"I don't know if I'll come into the Valley and see a species I haven't seen before," Banta said.
He plans to involve local stakeholders in a tight money environment to figure out which transit expansion corridors to tackle first, amid limited resources.
Metro spokeswoman Hillary Foose said the next step is contract negotiations. Once a contract is agreed upon, it would need final board approval. Foose could not provide an estimate on how long that might take. A board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 16.
Banta was up against industry consultant Deborah Wathen Finn, the other finalist candidate, who has more than 30 years' experience.
"This was a very difficult (selection) process," Metro board chairman and Phoenix Vice Mayor Tom Simplot said through a statement after the board's executive session. "Either candidate could take the reins and lead us with outstanding success; they are each professionals and top of their class."
Simonetta will stay on in an advisory capacity with Metro through June 2010. He is due to draw $253,555 as salary this year, with up to $5,000 in bonuses. He'll stay at the helm until the end of the year.
Simonetta is set to join URS Corporation in Ohio as vice president and national director of high-speed rail.