Mortimer L. Downey, III

Transportation, MTA Executive, Dead at 87

Mortimer L. Downey III, who for 65 years was a top official and advocate for mass transit, passed away on Nov. 2 at the age of 87. Mr. Downey was an executive for the USDOT, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board. 

Mr. Downey died at Sunrise of Hunter Mill in Fairfax, VA where he had lived for the past six years since learning he suffered from pulmonary fibrosis.

His many accomplishments included his work in the late 1980s to facilitate the financing that enabled the MTA to fund its first and much-needed Capital Program.

MTA Chair & CEO Janno Lieber released a statement on Mr. Downey’s passing noting his vital role in helping orchestrate the MTA’s comeback. “In his 12 years at the MTA, including as Executive Director and CFO from 1986 to 1993, Mortimer Downey led the agency through one of the most important eras in New York City transit history—the subway system’s revival. That comeback— starting with investments in a new fleet of subway cars—was in large part made possible because Mort pioneered borrowing in tax-exempt bond markets for the MTA to fund its first Capital Programs. Without his wizardry, fiscal and otherwise, all the improvements that followed wouldn’t have been possible.”

Mr. Lieber added, “Mort later went on to be the longest-serving federal Deputy Secretary of Transportation in USDOT history, which is where I came to know him as a boss, and as a friend and mentor to all. In every role—including his service on the Boards of Amtrak, the Mineta Transportation Institute, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)—Mort brought the same brilliance and passion that made him the premier transportation professional of his generation.”

For eight years, Mr. Downey held the position of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation in the Clinton Administration. As the Department’s chief operating officer, Mr. Downey developed the agency’s strategic plans and had program responsibilities for operations, regulation, and investments in land, sea, air and space transportation. He also served on the President’s Management Council, as Chairman of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Technology, as a member of the Trade Promotion Coordinating Council and as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak).

Mr. Downey led the Obama Presidential Transition team for the Department of Transportation. In 2010 the Obama administration appointed him as the first federal member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board and he served as the Board Chairman during 2015, leaving the board in 2016.

For more than two decades after leaving the DOT, he was the go-to advisor in the transportation and infrastructure field for public agencies including New Jersey Transit, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Chicago Transit Authority, WMATA, the Virginia Rail Express, Transport for London and the Panama Canal Authority. He also consulted on technology and innovation issues on infrastructure and automation.

He was born Aug. 9, 1936, to Mortimer and Elizabeth Carlin Downey and he grew up in Connecticut and Massachusetts. After completing high school as a scholarship student at Andover Academy, he attended Yale University receiving a B.A. in Political Science in 1958.

Mr. Downey earned his Master’s Degree in Public Administration from New York University, completed the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School, and continued online studies at Yale Alumni Program until this October.

After college, he moved to New York City where he began service as an officer in the United States Coast Guard Reserve.

In 1961, he married Joyce Vander Meyden (1937 to 2012) and they moved between New York, Connecticut and Virginia over the course of their 51 years of marriage. He served in a variety of transportation roles including serving a record breaking eight years as Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

From the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he and Joyce moved to Washington, DC in 1977 to become the first multi-modal transportation analyst with the newly established U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Budget.

From there he joined the U.S. Department of Transportation where he became its first Assistant Secretary for budget. He then returned to New York where he served as Executive Director and CFO of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for 12 years. His capital programs and new public and private financing initiatives were key to rebuilding the system, extending service, and even facilitating the opening of the Second Avenue Subway in 2017.

He was predeceased by his wife Joyce, with whom he celebrated 51 years of marriage and his brother, Peter Downey. He is survived by his two sons and their wives, Stephen and Abby (Alenstein) Downey of Long Island, NY and Chris and Sylvie (Carrier) Downey of Chatham, NJ; five grandchildren and two step grandchildren, Jonathan Downey, Michael Downey, Alexander Downey, Addysen Downey, Hailey Downey, Holly Langehennig, and Raymond Langehennig, and two nieces Caitlin Downey of Chicago, Illinois and Sarah C. (Downey) Kelley of Ireland.

A memorial service will be held at a future date. Memorial donations may be made to the Mortimer L Downey III Memorial Fellowship at the Eno Foundation, the Coast Guard Museum or the charity of your choice.

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