Transportation has led Chuck Winder down many paths since it became a passion during his days at the College of Idaho four decades ago. The course changed again in June when Gov. Jim Risch, completing the unexpired term of Dirk Kempthorne, chose a new chairman for the Idaho Transportation Board.
It was an abrupt, although not completely surprising, change for the board chairman who was first appointed by Gov. Phil Batt in 1995 and reappointed twice by Kempthorne. His service of 11 years, in two gubernatorial administrations, stretched longer than any of his predecessors.
That longevity speaks well of Winder’s commitment to the department and his enduring interest in transportation.
A student of politics, history, law and business, Winder accepted the change philosophically.
“The board is still the board, which is one of
the advantages of the system.
And a very time-consuming one.
His position as head of The Winder Company, which specializes in real estate investments, provided unique scheduling flexibility. He had the freedom to devote as much time and energy to the role of chairman as it demanded, which turned out to be considerable.
Transportation board meetings throughout the state, engagements at public forums, meetings with constituents and impromptu media interviews frequently led him away from his business.
In fact, he was absent from the office so frequently
as board chair that son David, who handles daily operations of The Winder
Company, suggests that he’s already retired.
“He introduced me to the political and economic implications of a strong transportation system. Germany, for example, was unable to compete in the world market because it lacked an efficient transportation system. Transportation and the economy are closely linked.
“One of the major priorities that I had, and that the board shared, was improving the state’s transportation system, particularly U.S. 95. It is a real detriment to economics if you don’t have a strong supporting infrastructure.
“Culturally, a road system, whether it’s interstate highways or rural roads, link communities and allow them to prosper. And the better the roads you have, the more lives you’re going to save.”
That premise is evident in most of the board’s decisions to improve Idaho’s transportation system – governed by safety and a sensitivity to business/commerce.
Winder graduated from the College of Idaho with a degree in political science and pre-law. In the waning days of the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Navy and spent four years of active duty as a pilot and flight instructor in Florida and Texas.
After leaving the Navy, Winder worked on development of the Karcher Mall in Nampa and spent 6 1⁄2 years with Morrison-Knudsen. He founded The Winder Co. in 1979.
Service on the Boise Planning and Zoning Commission, the city’s design review board and Ada County Highway District’s governing commission prepared him well for the challenges he eventually assumed as chairman of the transportation board. Among his responsibilities as board chair was participation in a regional Transit Forum intended to identify funding and service options for public transportation in the Treasure Valley.
The transition from board chairman to Transit Forum spokesperson
was almost immediate. A week after he left the transportation board
Winder was publicly explaining the need for a local option tax to augment
public transportation funding in Ada and Canyon counties.
Serving as chairman of the transportation board the past 11 years provided a Winder scrapbook of memories and accomplishments that also will have long-term effects on the state’s transportation system. Among them are:
“I realize there’s much to be done – there always will be. There will always be challenges to meet the growing demands… The department has to keep presenting the message that demands are great and funding is still not adequate to meet those demands.”
He said the Connecting Idaho program, funded by bonds that leverage future federal funds, is at a critical stage and needs to be an important part of ongoing discussions with the Legislature. And recommendations of the Forum on Transportation Investment must be considered in long-term planning and policymaking.
Winder admits he will miss the regular interaction with other board members – who have become like family – and with ITD employees and staff. But the administrative change will enable him to refocus on business operations.
“It will allow me the time to be more active in my business… to establish new business relationships and strengthen old ones.”
Appreciation events are being organized to bid Winder farewell this fall. Although no dates have been selected, plans are to have an afternoon open house in the auditorium at Headquarters for ITD employees. Additionally, a dinner, open to the public - including ITD employees - also is being discussed. Information will be relayed as soon as arrangements are completed.