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After exactly 22 years of service, Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Executive Director, Steve Saunders, is retiring.
Saunders began his career with the City of Bismarck on Dec. 1, 1998 as a transportation planner. Over the course of his career, he planned and coordinated several federally-funded transportation and safety plans and projects to improve transportation throughout the metro. Planners like Saunders, often work closely with other boards or organizations, such as the North Dakota Department of Transportation, the freight system and our local bus service, BisMan Transit.
“The Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is an overarching organization. It has no control over jurisdictions, but partners with them. We can’t build anything, but we provide the process and forum to enable our partners to build publicly vetted and approved, federally-funded transportation and safety projects,” he said.
Although Saunders oversaw many studies, he said the one he is most proud of is the two Bismarck School Crossing Studies. The first took place in 2005, and the follow-up study in 2016. These studies focused on the safety recommendations for 16 elementary schools in the metropolitan area. Each school received a chapter in a book of recommendations devoted to them. As part of the second study, the MPO interviewed school officials.
“We found that many principals from the first study, 11 years prior, still had the school’s chapter near them for reference. Many of the recommendations from both studies have been and will continue to be implemented,” he said. “I would like to think that maybe those two studies have had a part in saving a child from an injury at their school.”
Aside from making a difference with those outside of his office, Saunders said he will miss the daily interaction with his coworkers at the City. “I not only had a great MPO staff working with me, but great committees, boards and oversight from the NDDOT, state and federal government,” he said.
One staff member Saunders said he will miss is Rachel Drewlow, who will be stepping into his shoes as the new executive director of the division.
Drewlow, with her previous experience in similar rolls at the University of North Dakota and NDDOT, quickly moved from her part-time transportation planner position with the MPO, to a full-time career in 2014.
“I could not be happier that she is going to succeed me in my position,” Saunders said about Drewlow. “She is a very bright and hard-working woman and has been an exceptional employee to the MPO. She will make an excellent executive director.”
Saunders last day, will be Dec. 1, 2020. He said he plans to look for part-time work, possibly as a school crossing guard, to take a more hands-on approach to the legacy he will be leaving behind. He also plans on spending more time with his family and can’t wait for the freedom to travel again.