A couple of small photographs, displayed prominently under his computer monitor, were among the last items Charlie Rountree removed from his Headquarters office this week. Most of the other visible traces of 32 years at the Transportation Department had been taken earlier – shelves emptied, desktop cleared, walls stripped.
But his grandchildren remained.
The threshold of retirement affords a new perspective on what’s important. And for Rountree, it’s family and relationships.
When he reviewed the path he’s walked and the positions he’s held at ITD, the conversation invariably returned to the people who have helped to make the journey possible. When he talks about unprecedented growth in Idaho, livability and personal choices surface. When he talks about expanded responsibilities on the Meridian City Council that retirement will afford, discussion reverts back to what’s best for residents.
And when he talks about the next phase of life, he returns to his wife, two sons and three grandchildren.
People remain at the core of Charlie Rountree’s professional and personal life.
He accepted the deputy director duties about two years ago following the retirement of Jim Ross, adding to his role as administrator for the Division of Planning and Programming.
A bachelor’s of science degree in biology from Boise State University led Rountree to employment with the U.S. Forest Service and the Agricultural Research Service in the early 1970s. He began the first and shortest of two employment terms with ITD in 1974. He accepted a staff position as an ecological impact analyst, working on the potential environmental impacts of Federal Aid highway projects.
“I identified and hopefully helped limit the potential impacts of our projects on natural resources,” he explained.
Work conditions changed, and less than two years later he chose to leave ITD. It was a short break, however. He was hired into a new position – transportation planner – about three months later. Since then, Rountree moved up to a principal planner (1979) and supervisor of the environmental section (1984). When it became an independent section in the early 1990s, Rountree served as its first manager. Director Dwight Bower promoted him to division administrator in June 1998.
Through those positions, he has always had some involvement with transportation planning, from environmental issues to public input on the Statewide Transportation Investment Program.
“We have done a good job of managing our infrastructure and maximizing the use of our revenue, but the needs seem to be outpacing our ability to keep up with them.”
Idaho has grown at an unprecedented rate and remains one of the fastest-growing economies in the country, Rountree reminded. Instead of the historic growth rate of 2-3 percent, parts of Idaho have seen double-digit increases the past few years. That has severely stretched the department financially.
“Every entity that provides public service has experienced similar growth-related challenges.” He insisted.
ITD will need additional resources, “more tools,” as Rountree calls them, to cope with the population increase, assist economic growth, and the associated demands on the state’s transportation system.
“The system has not matured to accommodate the growth. We have a lot of territory to move people to and through. The bulk of the system is still working quite well, and we’ve made major improvements to it the past 10 years.”
Such as major investments in U.S. 95 and completion of the interstate highway system.
“The (transportation) board has moved forward with the concept that we should do more sooner, rather than later through bonding. And we’ll continue to look at innovative funding options to meet the demand.”
Identifying those solutions will be part of Rountree’s legacy to his successor.
Effective Friday (Sept. 22), his new responsibilities will include spending time with his three grandchildren, looking for additional city council committee assignments, continuing as a commissioner for the Western Ada Recreation District, putting the finishing touches on the house he built in west Meridian, and spending quality time with his stable of woodworking tools.
He and wife Nancy also plan road trips this winter to visit a son and his family near Salt Lake City and may participate in an organized bicycle tour in Europe next year. Nancy recently retired from BSU where she was an administrative assistant to the Dean of the College of Engineering.