Interview with Michael Wayne Hancock, May 13, 2010

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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MILLER: This is the Kentucky Transportation Oral History Project to be stored at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky. It is May 13, 2010. We're at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet offices in Frankfort, Kentucky, at 200 Mero Street. My name is Mardi Miller, M-a-r-d-i Miller and--

WHAYNE: And this is Laura Whayne, L-a-u-r-a W-h-a-y-n-e.

MILLER: And we're here interviewing today, um, Secretary Hancock.

HANCOCK: Right. And I'm, uh, acting Secretary of the Transportation Cabinet Mike Hancock and that's Mike or Michael, M-i-c-h-a-e-l, Hancock, H-a-n-c-o-c-k.

MILLER: Secretary Hancock, what's your most recent position, uh, here with the organization and, uh, its name?

HANCOCK: Right. I am the, uh, current acting secretary of the cabinet.

00:01:00

MILLER: And, uh, uh, when you first became involved in transportation in Kentucky, uh, can you describe for us, uh, that time period?

HANCOCK: Sure. Um, my first involvement with transportation in Kentucky is really a, a long, long time ago. Uh, I was a sophomore in college and, uh, actually had a, a job working for a local contractor in far Western Kentucky, and, uh, one of the things that I noticed that summer as I worked to, uh, to ready a project for state acceptance was that the fellow in the yellow truck, uh, representing the state and in the yellow hardhat, you know, he, he seemed to be able to direct my activities through the course of the day. And I decided fairly quickly that his job looked a lot better than mine. (Miller laughs) But, uh, but that was an early experience with, uh--or brush with the Transportation Cabinet but then went on to school, uh, at UK with a, uh, under the Transportation Cabinet's engineering scholarship program 00:02:00and, uh, graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1978 and, uh, started with the Transportation Cabinet in the planning function for the cabinet and, um, and worked there for several years before moving into the program management function, and, uh, I have been, have been an engineer one, uh, all the way up through state highway engineer and, um, and, uh, now acting secretary. So it's been, uh, just an incredible career.

MILLER: Can you, uh, back up just a little bit to your participation in the scholarship program and maybe your, um, how that--what that meant to you--how that, uh, enabled you to, to go on and contribute?

HANCOCK: You know, there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about, uh, the, the scholarship program and the opportunities I was afforded there, not, not only just to go to school which for me--I, uh, just a little known story, a little sidebar here. But as a 00:03:00sophomore in high school, uh, I thought the civil engineering sounded interesting, and as I went through high school and I, uh, neared my senior year, I approached our, uh, guidance counselor at school and said something to the effect of civil engineering sounded like something I was interested in. And, and she recognized that we were in far Western Kentucky. We were two hundred miles plus from the nearest accredited engineering school being UK, and she also, uh, recognized that my family was not of great means. So, so she tried to, um, more or less direct me to something that was more achievable or attainable, and, uh, I went to Hopkinsville Community College where I majored in computer science for a couple of--well, actually for a couple of semesters--and then I had a, uh, wonderful, um, math teacher at Hopkinsville Community College who put a transportation scholarship application under my nose and suggested that it might be a good thing to apply for, which I did. And, and, uh, and to Ms. Mary 00:04:00Lou McReynolds, the rest is history. Uh, she, uh, she was a wonderful lady and a tremendous influence on my life. So with the scholarship program, I had a opportunity then to continue on to school and ultimately graduate with a, a bachelor's of civil engineering there, but each summer, as I worked through school, uh, I was assigned to, uh, transportation projects, uh, in Western Kentucky. Uh, the most notable was the construction of the Interstate 24 bridge over the Cumberland River, and that was a, uh, noteworthy project in its own right because that bridge was essentially constructed on, uh, on ground that was not solid rock. And so there were many things they had to do that were unique and unusual, and as I watched not only the construction firm deal with that, but watched the state inspection effort as we, as we went through that, I learned an incredible amount. It was a treasure trove of, uh, information, and as I say today, I still look back 00:05:00on that with great fondness and think about it often in a number of challenges I'm presented with. So it was a tremendous experience.

MILLER: So you did that throughout your college experience?

HANCOCK: That's correct.

MILLER: Um, did you ever have the opportunity to, um, go over to the research, um, center on Limestone?

HANCOCK: I, I did. Actually, uh, while I was in college, I didn't work there but I certainly was familiar with it and, uh, and knew Ron Hughes and a number of the members of the, uh, the center, uh, who were, uh, who were there at the time, and, uh, at one point, um--I'm trying to recall exactly how that, how that worked--but I think our scholarship stipends even may have worked through Ron. I can't remember exactly. I will tell you one of the things that I remember very fondly was Calvin Grayson, and, uh, and I remember Calvin. Of course it was, this was prior to his, uh, his days as the director of the center, but, uh, Calvin was, uh, transportation secretary when I was on the scholarship program. And one of the things I remember about Secretary Grayson was 00:06:00that he was never too busy to come over and talk to the engineering scholarship recipients. Every time the checks were handed out you could just about count on seeing him, and, uh, he just cared. He cared about who we were, what we were doing, what our plans were, and more than anything, he loved the Transportation Cabinet and was excited to see us be that, that new, uh, that new, uh, genre, I guess, of, of people to step in and, uh, and follow his lead. So tremendous, uh, times and experience.

MILLER: Um, so when you began with the cabinet you, uh, worked with--you had planning functions? You had planning?

HANCOCK: Yes. Yes. Worked in the division of--uh, at the time, it was the Division of Facilities Planning. It was located at, uh, 419 Anne Street here in Frankfort. The building's no longer there, but the memories last. We had a number of, uh, terrific, uh, engineering personnel there, and, um, you know, some of, uh, my favorite people 00:07:00were people like Roy Laughlin and Jim Smith and Jim Fehr, um, that just simply, uh, were, were people that, uh, the world may never truly, uh, respect or even acknowledge, but were people that certainly had a profound effect on me, so--in my early development. But growing up in that planning function, I worked in facilities planning which basically was, was statewide route planning and, and statewide project planning. Uh, I moved from there in 1984/'85--I guess 1985--to the Division of, uh, Multi-Modal Programs, uh, where I was involved with urban and regional planning for about, uh, uh, about four years, and, uh, and then from there, moved into the program management arena which is basically the point where the dollars and all of those plans, uh, collide and plans and programs evolve, uh, for the Transportation Cabinet from the program management perspective. So just incredible training, uh, um, 00:08:00by the grace of God. It was a tremendous opportunity. So--

MILLER: And what, about what year was that? Uh--

HANCOCK: Program management?

MILLER: Regional planning?

HANCOCK: The regional planning would have been from 1985, uh, through 1989.

MILLER: And you were based here in, in Frankfort for those?

HANCOCK: Yes.

MILLER: Can you describe then for us, uh, the time period after 1989?

HANCOCK: Sure. Absolutely. The Division of Program Management, when I went there, uh, actually it was late in 1989, and, uh, it had been--that actually was a program management staff at the time--and it had been, uh, essentially charged with putting together, um, uh, documents that allocated funds to projects. And when I went there it was called programming, and basically all they did was, uh, was match, um, projects in our road plan with, uh, with dollars that were made available to us from state and federal aid, uh, fund sources. Um, I 00:09:00had a, an early vision for the program management function that, that transcended that programming, uh, uh, thought, and it really came more to a core organizational unit that, that, uh, that blended all of the planning background, the planning principles of who we were and what we hoped to be someday with the use of our funds so that we truly managed the program activity within the cabinet. And in that role, uh, I became, uh, um, very active in a number of things we were doing not only at the planning level but also project development, uh, better linking the two to, uh, to shepherd projects through the project development process to construction. So that, uh, you know, that whole process was one that, as we built it and built the tools associated with it--uh, the Division of Program Management exists today, and that Division of Program Management is assigned directly to the state 00:10:00highway engineer and holds a high level of prominence within the cabinet. But the, uh, the vision for what that, that function could be, uh, is something that I'm very proud to say is--has been achieved in large part, so I'm very excited about that.

MILLER: Um, what, uh, transportation activity and events maybe stand out in your mind from, um, from this time period, maybe 1985 to, um, to 1990?

HANCOCK: Well, as, um--in looking back in 1985 to 1990, of course, that would have been the time in multi-modal programs, and in that particular arena there were--or time period there were several things we were doing with travel models that, uh, that had been technologically, uh, not available to us until that time period. Uh, people don't realize the age of computers, but in the early 1980's, the mid-1980's was really the advent of the computer age as far as 00:11:00our cabinet went and in many functions across the country. So, so as we found ourselves, uh, looking at, uh, at a variety of potential uses for new computer technology, one of the things that we discovered early on was that constructing travel models for small urban areas was something that, that the, uh, the use of the desktop computer enhanced dramatically. And one of the classic stories about that, uh, we had the Owensboro traffic model that, uh, prior to 1985, took two days of, of actual typing cards, putting them in the machine, running them, getting the output, another day and a half to read the output and really understand what you had. So it would take sometimes, you know, a half a week or more just to make one analysis, one run--if you will- -of the model. Um, in, I guess, late 1988 we had the Owensboro model running in something like five and a half minutes.

MILLER: Wow.

HANCOCK: So when you consider, you know, three and a half days versus 00:12:00five and a half minutes, uh, it's a considerable amount of time reduction, and people also don't realize in our cabinet that, uh, at that point in time we probably had more than ten thousand employees across the state. Uh, today we have just slightly more than 4200 employees, so I would submit that, that technology has enabled, uh, the Transportation Cabinet certainly to, to become leaner, and, uh, when people think about state employees and whether there are too many, I can assure you in our cabinet that, uh, each and every person we hire is properly tasked. And, and we have, uh, a great legacy to build on and, and much expected of each one of us, so I think the public gets their money's worth here.

MILLER: Was that early--I'm just curious--that early computer you mentioned using the cards, is that the IBM 650?

HANCOCK: Yes. I mentioned going to school initially, uh, at community college to be a computer, uh, programmer. Um, I decided early on that that wasn't really my calling and that the engineering side of 00:13:00it was something that I really wanted to do, but it was, it was very interesting several years later to have that blend with the computer call or with the, uh, the engineering calling to, uh, to yield some, some benefits. And I--one of the neatest little stories, um, I mentioned the Owensboro model would run in five and a half minutes. I walked past one of my coworkers' desks one day and she was pounding her desk telling that machine to hurry up, so it seems we're never satisfied. That's the moral of that story, I think.

MILLER: Um, do you recall, um, any interactions during that time or, uh, shortly thereafter with the Kentucky Transportation Center?

HANCOCK: Yes. We, uh--the Transportation Center of course, uh, has been the, uh, the Transportation Cabinet's research arm since, uh, since the early 1980's and, uh, and really became that because, uh, the cabinet went through a, a period of, of, uh, extreme cuts and reductions back 00:14:00in, uh, the early eighties, and one of the things that, uh, that the upper management at that time decided to do was to, uh, was to, uh, give the research function to the University of Kentucky, um, still supported in large part by dollars, federal and state dollars that flowed through the Transportation Cabinet. But it, it essentially, um, uh, placed the functionality at UK. Uh, Calvin Grayson, again, uh, after having served as secretary and moving into that role of leading that office in its early years, its formative years was, uh, that was an incredible choice, uh, he, uh, as he went through that time period during the eighties, uh, working with all of us as we were engaging those new technologies, trying to figure out how to do things, uh, smarter, how to do things, uh, more quickly than we had done them before. And the, uh, Transportation Center was always there whether it would be a, a new application that we were thinking about trying, they 00:15:00quite often served as our guinea pigs for, for how we would, uh, apply some new technology that we saw benefit in. So the Transportation Center was, uh, absolutely right there every step of the way and, uh, very instrumental in, uh, our development as an agency.

MILLER: Do you recall any specific, um, technology-related, um, research that, uh, you maybe worked with at that time with the center, um, any of the early IT efforts or--?

HANCOCK: I think as, as I recall it basically revolved around, um, um, the, the research efforts associated with some of our modeling, uh, work. There were, uh, some things that we, you know, we might want to pursue whether it, uh, related to the data that, uh, that was used to input the model such as the, uh, the trip attractions. Uh, we had zonal trips and different things. There were all kind of details that, 00:16:00that we, um, from time to time would look to, uh, look to, uh, have outside input on as far as land use, variables and all of those types of things, and, and the center was always good to, uh, to step into the mix and help with any of the, you know, of the requests that we made in that regard.

MILLER: And, um, can you describe for us then how your role with the cabinet changed or how it developed from, I guess, after 1989?

HANCOCK: Okay. Um, absolutely. We, um, for about five years, um, the, uh, the program management function, uh, one of the first things we did was we changed the name physically from programming to program management to imply higher level of, of thought being given to the various things that we were assigned to do, and we spent a period of about five years, uh, moving the, the program management 00:17:00function from an old mainframe computer-based system to a, uh, a, uh, a desktop environment and that in itself was no small feat. We used something at the time that was a brand new concept. It was an Oracle-based platform for how we, uh, we put together the data that, uh, that allowed us to move our preconstruction status report and a number of, of other applications forward. Uh, we, um, at the time, you know, Oracle was something that everyone thought might have some long-term, uh, possibilities, and we had just a very few people in the Transportation Cabinet who really understood the functionality of Oracle, who had been to classes and learned the programming languages associated with it. And it was my great pleasure, at that time, to be able to work with those people, um, as we developed this new mechanism for producing data in our, uh, preconstruction status report. One of the things that we had, had dealt with, uh, for years previous was 00:18:00even minor changes to data--because it was a mainframe function, even those minor changes took days or weeks to, to have made. With the desktop environment using Oracle and with the, uh, abilities of our, uh, information technology staff, we were able to make changes that would have taken days--we were able to make those in minutes and so it. And not to mention the functionality of the data and the ability to extract data from the system and go use it. Uh, for years the cabinet had been masters at compiling data, but we never had quite mastered how to effectively use data. And, uh, and one of the things I kept telling our staff is that, "I don't want to be, I don't want to be the king of the data. What I want to be is the principal user of the data, and I want to see us make good judgments using that data that, uh, that helps us support those judgments." So, so in that four or five-year period, uh, in that transitional area where programming 00:19:00became program management, uh, the availability of better data, better access to the data, uh, more intelligent decision-making as a result of that, of course, uh, you know, career-wise that was, uh, that was quite a, um, I guess a, uh, positive thing for me personally because I became associated with some of those things. And Don Kelly is the, uh, is the secretary back in 1994--uh, well, 1996 I guess is where I'm thinking about, this '95/'96--it was at the point where Paul Patton had just been elected governor and Fred Mudge had been named as the new transportation secretary. And Don Kelly, who was the outgoing transportation secretary, brought Mr. Mudge into my office, uh, on the eighth floor of the old state office building. And he looked at me and he says, "Mike," he says, "tell Fred everything you know about program management in five minutes." And I looked at Fred, and I just, I just wiped my brow and said, "You know, last time he only gave me 00:20:00three minutes." So--(Miller laughs)--it worked out very well. Fred and I, uh, uh, hit it off very well, uh, primarily because Fred came from Logan Aluminum down in Western Kentucky. Uh, Fred was a, uh--by the way, Logan Aluminum was number one in the world in aluminum can manufacturing at the time, not number one in the nation or in Kentucky but number one in the world--and Fred told me right out of the chute, he said, "I have a--uh, at Logan Aluminum I have a core group that knows where every piece of raw aluminum is as it's on its way into our plant, that knows where every piece of that aluminum is in the fabrication and finishing process and where every piece of finished aluminum is as it's on its way to our customers." And he said, "That core group keeps up with all of that." He said, "We have lots of functions that do lots of things, but this core group keeps up with that." He said, "I want to do the same thing with this cabinet. I want a core group that keeps up with the inflow and the outgo." And he told 00:21:00me, he says, "Don Kelly tells me that your function is, is the place to get that done and program management had become, uh--had arrived, I guess is the right way to say that. So, so we, uh, Fred Mudge elevated our stature, uh, uh, assigned us directly to the state highway engineer at that point. Um, I served as an assistant to the state highway engineer. A few years after that--a couple years after that John Carr, uh, who was our deputy state highway engineer for planning retired, and I was asked to replace John. The program management function was assigned to the planning function, uh, basically to accompany me through the process, and, um, and then I managed the, the planning function as the deputy state highway engineer until I retired in 2006. So that's, uh, kind of a, a thumbnail sketch, I guess.

MILLER: Um, would you--I'm just wondering, is this different, very different in structure than other states and how they manage?

00:22:00

HANCOCK: It probably is. You know, I haven't done a lot of research to determine, you know, how different we may be than other states, but, but my guess is each state has its own unique set of circumstances and each state has responded to those in their own unique way. What I find is each state, uh, may not have a program management function, but each state certainly has, uh, policy groups that try to help decide, uh, you know, between different avenues that, uh, that those agencies can go into the future. And, and I think Kentucky's way of, of approaching those, uh, kinds of policy considerations, uh, is among the best. I certainly have no, uh, reservations about that as I talk to my, uh, counterparts in other states. So, so I think we've kind of developed uniquely as most states do, and, uh, and the issues have, uh, have been many but, uh, one of things that I've learned over the years is 00:23:00that, is that it's always amazed me how much better the decisions of upper management are when upper management has good data to base those decisions on. And if you could sum up, you know, my whole career, that's, that's what I've attempted to do, uh, the background role of, uh, of providing the best possible information for people to make the best possible decisions from. So that's, um, you know, that--it's, it's been very gratifying over the years, and, uh, you know, since retirement's a whole different issue. We can talk about that, too, if you like.

MILLER: Um, and I'm sure that the research that, uh, you've seen done by the Kentucky Transportation Center over this time frame, um, probably helped--do you feel it contributed to good decisions?

HANCOCK: Absolutely. The, uh, Transportation Center has been a, uh, an incredible wealth of, of knowledge and, and help on both the, the technical assistance side and the policy assistance side. Uh, most 00:24:00people don't, uh, don't typically think about research functions delving into policy issues, but, but we have used the Transportation Center for several policy-related studies. And that's, that's helped us whether that's, um, dealing with things like innovative financing or, or those types of issues where we've looked at other states to determine, you know, who's doing what, uh, that might generate some, some value that we could, uh, that we could learn from and apply here in Kentucky. And, uh, the center has, has certainly done those things, and then, of course, they're noted primarily for the technical research that they do. And the technical research spans the entire spectrum of Transportation Cabinet activity from, uh, pavement management and the number of issues they do there, uh--research done there, uh, to safety and all of the, the considerations that we're involved with. Ken Agent, Jerry Pigman are people I've worked with, I've known since I was in college and, and worked with for many, many years, and, um, 00:25:00you know, Joe Crabtree with the Intelligent Transportation Systems. Joe is a, a fellow, too, I've known since, uh, since college, uh, um, and it's just been, you know, tremendous--as I mentioned earlier--just a tremendous wealth of, of information that we've been able to obtain through that source.

MILLER: And they still use, I think, substantially a lot of student, uh, uh--

HANCOCK: Yes.

MILLER: --other civil engineering students that are coming up and moving on, and, um, I was just wondering if you see a lot of those people, um, continue on with transportation in Kentucky?

HANCOCK: We, we do. One of the great things the Transportation Center does is they use students to assist with, uh, research projects that they do. Uh, quite often they open a student's eyes to a world that the student didn't know existed, and quite often when the student sees those things and begins to comprehend and understand, the interest, 00:26:00uh, spikes and, and you'll see the student develop an interest that wasn't there previously. And we do see a number of our employees here in the cabinet who, who, uh, come from, uh, UK to work for us who have had experience with the Transportation Center. We'll see them migrate toward jobs that they learned a great deal about while working through the center, so it's, uh, and it's been a very positive relationship. Absolutely no down side to that.

MILLER: And we, of course, uh, have some, some working knowledge with our own educational process through the Technology Transfer Program, and, um, can you maybe describe for us your experiences with that and some of our training programs?

HANCOCK: Absolutely. And, you know, technology transfer is something that, again, doesn't get the kind of recognition it really deserves. Uh, Patsy Anderson and her folks, uh, just do a tremendous job with the technology transfer programs, so we, we think about all the, the higher-order learning--if you will--the things that go on with 00:27:00the educated professionals helping other educated professionals do things better with our cabinet. But, you know, every day there are those professionals that work on county work crews, there are county judges, county foremen, our own superintendents and, and maintenance and operations employees that technology transfer, uh, speaks to in, in volumes that I can't even begin to describe. We do Road Scholars programs and all of those types of activities, uh, uh--roads is R-o-a-d-s, by the way. (laughs) So, but that, uh, that program is one that has heightened the, uh, ability of our, uh, of our employees to do their jobs at every level, and, uh, it's something that Patsy and her staff are absolutely to be commended for. Uh, I've been to many of these workshops and watched them in action, and, uh, the way that that's handled is incredibly professional. The people thoroughly appreciate the training they get, and it helps all Kentuckians as that, 00:28:00as that learning is transferred down into things that make our roadways safer and better. So it's, it's been a, a terrific, uh, a terrific part of the center for many years.

MILLER: Um, speaking more, I guess, overall, broadly over your career, um, have there been some specific projects, um, across the state that stand out in your mind, um, that have either been a source of, um, innovation--something you're proud of--or maybe even a challenge?

HANCOCK: Whew. There's so many, so many that come to mind. Um, we've done a number of, uh, very successful projects over the years. Um, I'm trying to, uh, to sort of zero in on one or two particular, but, you know, some of the things we do that don't gain the greatest notoriety are things like widening interstate routes. And I think everyone is sighing a collective sigh of relief now that Interstate 75 between 00:29:00Lexington and Northern Kentucky is finally six lanes throughout, and, uh, you know, those are the kind of achievements that we, uh, we thoroughly appreciate and it's routine stuff in large part but, but very much an activity that helps our state move forward, keeps us attractive for business and industry as they look to, to see where, uh, those progressive states are that have, uh, high level transportation systems. But there are also some things that have been fun, uh, to do, and, you know, some of the fun projects are projects like Paris Pike. You might not think that'd be a lot of fun between Paris and Lexington, but, you know, Paris Pike was a road that, uh, that had languished for probably, um, twenty years, twenty-five years in federal court as we had injunction after injunction as the cabinet sought to, to widen Paris Pike. Paris Pike was a narrow, two-lane road. Uh, uh, weekly it seemed the scene of a tragic fatality, uh, accident, and, 00:30:00and the people in Paris, the people in Lexington, uh, everyone who used that road was in favor of widening it. The problem was it was located through one of the most historic regions in Kentucky, so, so for years, there had been no, no movement on that project. Um, when, when, I guess, back in the, uh, the mid-nineties, late nineties/early two thousands, we, we saw a change in attitude from the Transportation Cabinet that, that helped us better reach out to and understand public sentiment as it regarded or as it related to projects. At that time, we called this "context sensitivity" and we talked about context sensitive design, and so the concepts of context sensitive design were employed with the historic community at the table with us, along with a number of other interests, and together we crafted an outcome for Paris Pike that is world-known today. It is, uh, it is a very unique, uh, road 00:31:00design. Most engineers as, as most everyone realizes, if we go from A to B we like to go in a straight line. Uh, Paris Pike is, uh, uh, is a very curvilinear type project, but it's the type of curvilinear project that's both safe and pleasing to the eye. And that's something that has gained that roadway national recognition through national awards. Uh, of course, that was never our intent as we set out to do that project. The intent was to, uh, to build a four-lane road and make it safer so that we wouldn't have the fatalities that were occurring on the route, but, but at the end of the days as I look back on a career, you know, projects like Paris Pike are, are projects that, you know, they're near and dear because I know what it took to get them from, from where they were to where they are. And, um, the things that we did--just a, a little sidebar story on that. Paris Pike, the old road, was lined with rock fences, the stone rock fences, historic fences. 00:32:00Um, we had a lot of, uh, concerns about the historic community, about affecting those, but we had to affect them. There was no way to move the roadway or, or to widen the roadway in any way without getting into those, and so we worked with the historic community to actually go to Scotland to hire a Scottish stone mason--the art of stone masonry had died away in Kentucky--we actually, the Transportation Cabinet hired a stone mason from Scotland to come to Kentucky and to teach classes in stone masonry, and, uh, today you have the, uh, the, uh, Stone Masonry Conservancy that, uh, there's an outgrowth of that very effort. And if you look around Kentucky you find, uh, the stone fencing that has been rebuilt on numerous farms throughout, uh, central Kentucky especially, and it's a direct result of, of a byproduct of the Paris Pike project. 00:33:00So little things that people never think about but, uh, but I know, you know, some of the, some of the softer sides of highway projects. In my, in my office you'll see two pictures on the wall. Uh, those two pictures, uh, show Paris Pike as during some archeological excavations that were being done in the old tavern along the, uh, the project, and, uh, and people see those pictures and they want to talk about the archeology. And then they ask why I, as acting secretary, would have those hanging? And I say, "Well, that's road construction, too," and people don't realize that that's all part of who we are and what we do these days, so--that's just the way it is.

MILLER: Um, I know that our center over the years has done, um, work with improving public hearings and public input and understanding of projects. Um, was there a role played in that Paris Pike project?

HANCOCK: Yes. And in fact the center, um, on a number of fronts, as 00:34:00we began to realize the benefits of context sensitivity in working with the public, uh, to help us better tune our projects to the communities and the issues that the communities were facing, uh, we developed a number of tools in concert with the Transportation Center. Uh, Ted Grossardt, for instance, uh, developed this tool that, that allowed the, uh, the citizens at one of our meetings to actually cast electronic votes on, uh, particular issues where someone didn't have to stand up and be counted. They could secretly tell you how they really felt, and, uh, you know, it was a, it was a great way to get honest feedback. Uh, the grandstanding or even the shyness of people to stand up and talk about things suddenly went away because everybody knew, I had a vote, and, uh, and they got to cast that vote. And, uh, you know, at the end of the day we don't always do everything the public wants to do because some things are just not, uh, financially feasible, 00:35:00but it gave us a great way of knowing what the public wanted and then, as always, we try to do as much of that as we can. So it's, it's-- those tools have proved invaluable to us, and I think the public would say it's given them a way to be heard, uh, in a way that they never had before. And so that's, uh, you know, all of those kinds of advances have been very, very much built into our system today.

MILLER: And, uh, another broad question for you.

HANCOCK: That's okay. Shoot.

MILLER: How would, what would you say has been--if you snapshot back to when you first became involved with transportation in Kentucky to right now, uh, I know that you've spoken to a lot of improvements, but is there something that really stands out in your mind as, um, strikingly different?

HANCOCK: Uh-huh. Well, I mentioned something earlier about the sheer size of our organization. Uh, any organization that goes from ten thousand employees plus--and it was more like 10,600 in my early days--um, down to 4200, um, just the sheer change that's involved in 00:36:00the organization as we have, um, matured, I guess, over the years and become smarter, um, looked to do things better, uh, we've been maligned in many ways for, you know, for things that quite often we didn't have control over: outside influences and how they affect the cabinet. But, you know, I'll just tell you. I have, um, I chose to make this cabinet a career. I've been here now over thirty-one years, and, um, knowing everything I know about this cabinet today, I wouldn't change a thing. And, uh, and that just simply says that anytime an agency is evolving and maturing and doing the things that it should to continually get better every day, uh, it just gives you a, a great sense to be--a great positive sense--to be a great part of that. And, uh, and so today, you 00:37:00know, as I sit in the acting secretary's position, it's one that, that I probably have a greater appreciation for the breadth and depth of our cabinet. Um, I also have the right to be more frightened than others about some things because I know how thin we are in some areas, but, um, but I also know the great people. I, I quite often, uh, say that, you know, we do things better, uh, when we do them ourselves as far as the highway system in Kentucky, uh, as opposed to others who, who help us, and that's not a--that's not with disrespect to anyone who helps us do things. But, but our employees have a heart for what they do, and the decisions we make are with our heads and our hearts. And that's, uh, uh, you know, that's, I think that's what the public would really like to hear and like to know is that we do care about the work we do and we do it for them, and that, that sounds--I know how that sounds. It sounds kind of cheesy, probably, but, you know, honestly thirty-one 00:38:00years in, um, I'm vested the better part of my life here. And, uh, if I didn't feel that way I couldn't sit in the, in the secretary's chair. I just couldn't do it. So--

MILLER: And, um, no one knows exactly what's going to occur in coming years, but, uh, if, if, uh, from where you are now and where you'd like to see things be, um, do you have a vision, um, that you've sort of been able to crystallize?

HANCOCK: I do. I--you know, the Transportation Cabinet, uh, as we look ahead, uh, mobility of the people is, is the most critical thing, and, and the vision that I have is, is one of, of safety and mobility as, as the given, uh in our system. Um, it's very difficult to talk about that in an age where congestion on our highway system is, is, uh, is rampant, but when I talk about transportation and I talk about long- 00:39:00term where we should be, uh, I think it's important--and I'll probably get shot by some contractors if somebody ever hears this--but, but I think it's important for us to, uh, to realize that transportation is a multi-modal thing and that sometimes having materials shift via barge or by train rather than on a truck, sometimes that, uh, that's a much better thing when you think about highway congestion and you think about safety. And, uh, and so when I look ahead, uh, uh, a transportation system that's truly multi-modal that, uh, provides the safest means of, of, uh, enhanced mobility that we can for the citizens of Kentucky, uh, is what I see. And we've referred to that in the past as a safe and reliable highway system, but that's really what, what we're talking about. Uh, in future years, something a lot of people don't realize, the Panama Canal is in the process of being widened. 00:40:00When the Panama Canal is widened and deepened, um, big ships that now come from the Orient and dock in California and unload in California because they can't get through the Panama Canal, uh, that's going to change, and these big ships can go straight to the southern coast of our country and they can dock, uh, outside of New Orleans or, or, uh, some of the other, uh, uh, regions of Alabama and so forth. And we have a number of inland waterways: the Tennessee ----------(??) the Mississippi, the Ohio, I think are going to see enhanced opportunity in terms of barge traffic and the movement of goods and services by barge, and, uh, and not only that but it's going to increase the amount of freight that could be moving on the rail systems from the southern part of the country up into the breadbasket of the country and into the north and northeast. So, so I, you know, I hear people say, "Well, we need to be careful about, you know, highways money and how we spend it or rail money and how it's spent or waterways' money and where does it 00:41:00come from." But, you know, the truth of the matter is long-term, there will be plenty, I think, to go around in terms of work and opportunity for everybody. Uh, the financing and funding of our transportation systems is the only thing that I see that will keep us from being all that we can be, both in that safe realm, safety realm and the mobility realm. So it's, you know, a safe and reliable system indeed. I think that's, that's the goal we're working every day. If you look at, uh, the statistics for this year, you'll see that thus far in 2010 we're sixty fatalities fewer, uh, on our highway system than we were at this time last year. Now that's not something I'm proud of. I, I will tell you I'm happy that it's less than it was last year, but as we say, uh, we're working towards zero deaths. I mean, we won't be thrilled until we have zero fatalities in any given year, uh, and some would say that's an unrealistic goal. Well, you know, it probably is, but 00:42:00that's okay. It doesn't, that's not going to stop us from shooting for that, and, uh, so that's--so those are the kinds of things that as we talk about how do we get to those goals, how do we move forward, all of those things count.

MILLER: And, um, do you see a critical role, um, for research continuing of course in making those decisions?

HANCOCK: Absolutely. The, the research--Kentucky Transportation Center and research arm of our Cabinet is constantly focused on how we make our highway systems safer. Uh, Jerry and Ken, I mean, I hope they keep doing that job until they're a hundred. Their passion is what's incredible there. If you're around them fifteen minutes you know, uh, you know where they are, and, uh, the spirit of influence that those gentlemen have is incredible. And the same is true for many of the other areas. We have pavement specialists, uh, constantly looking for ways to make our pavements last longer so there are fewer interruptions, fewer opportunities for the kinds of, of crashes that occur when a, you know, when a road's under construction. So, uh, just 00:43:00a number of, of activities that the research center's doing that help us throughout. So--

MILLER: Is there anything else that you would like to, um, include as you sort of have an overview then of your experiences with transportation in Kentucky?

HANCOCK: Well, I, the only thing that I, I would add is just a, a personal note of gratitude for the opportunity to have worked with the cabinet and, and to have had the, uh, the incredible, uh, opportunities that I've had. In 2006 when I retired, I honestly thought, Well, that's the end of the state career, and, um, and I was very pleased, uh, looking back at, at the good things that the cabinet had accomplished, um, uh, while I worked here. And, uh, and in late 2006, I got a call, uh, asking if I would come back to work. There were a few things that they thought I might be able to help with, so actually it worked out 00:44:00beautifully for me because I had a high school junior. Uh, my son was graduating from high school the next year, and I thought, "Well, if I can stay at home another couple of years and be there with him, that's great." So, uh, so I took that opportunity to return to work and, uh, um, as, as the, uh, the previous administration neared, um, an end, they, uh, that administration asked me to serve as, as the chief of staff, uh, for the secretary. And that was a job that I did for the last six months of the previous administration, and then when Governor Beshear was elected, um, I received a call and was asked to meet with a fellow that I had never met before and the fellow's name was Joe Prather. And, uh, and Joe looked at me and he said, "I'm told that you have the best interests of the cabinet at heart, and that's what I need is someone that can help me with that." So he asked me to stay on as chief of staff and then ultimately, uh, he and Governor Beshear made me, uh, the state highway engineer and then for the last seven months, 00:45:00uh, the Governor asked me to serve as the successor to Joe as the transportation secretary. So, you know, when I look at a, at a career that, uh, frankly I, I guess the expectations I set for myself were never that lofty, and I've just, I just feel blessed. That's all I can say, and it's been an absolute joy and a pleasure to have invested all of these years not only in this cabinet, but on behalf of the people of Kentucky. And I really hope that someday, uh, the people truly realize that there are a number of professionals here who, who deeply care about what we do. Uh, Clay Bailey who was Governor Fletcher's first transportation secretary was a, uh, former general, um, uh, who led the Afghanistan invasion, you know, a well-respected and renowned fellow who was brought to the Transportation Cabinet to, to bring us, uh, uh, to a new day, so to speak, and to, and to basically move us 00:46:00back to, uh, where some thought we had, had departed from in years past and to bring us back to a better way of doing business. Uh, Secretary Bailey had been on the job about six weeks, and he came into my office one day and he sat down and he looked at me and says, "Mike?" I said, "Yes, sir?" He said, um, "There are a lot of good people here." And I said, "Yes, sir. There are." And he said, "It's not at all like what they told me it would be." And so I, I think that simply says, uh, what I'm trying to convey, that there are wonderful people here who do great work every day, and, uh, as I said, I hope someday they're recognized for that because it's, it's unsung in large part for them. But, uh, it's a great pleasure, great pleasure to be here.

MILLER: Thank you so much for your time and--

HANCOCK: My pleasure.

MILLER: --uh, your contribution to this oral history project. This concludes the interview.

HANCOCK: All right.

[End of interview.]