Peter Rogoff, the new Sound Transit CEO, said the prospect of working on a ballot measure for light-rail expansion attracted him to the job.

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Sound Transit hired a new executive Thursday to lead the agency through the precarious job of crafting a possible $20 billion expansion plan, for the November 2016 ballot.

Peter Rogoff is expected to start work in January, succeeding CEO Joni Earl, who is on unpaid medical leave with a brain injury. Earl will stay on as an adviser until the University of Washington Station opens early next year.

“I am not the best candidate,” Rogoff, 55, a former federal transit official, told the board. “The best candidate is a healthy Joni Earl.”

Rogoff’s pay has yet to be negotiated, said board Chairman Dow Constantine. The advertised range is $201,000 to $302,000, while Earl would be making $253,000 if on full duty.

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From 2009-2014, Rogoff ran the Federal Transit Administration, where he signed an $813 million grant to help fund the almost-ready $1.8 billion, light-rail tunnel connecting Westlake Station, Capitol Hill and the UW. He is now undersecretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“This is a very high-functioning agency,” he said, referring to Sound Transit’s ability to deliver projects.

That wasn’t always that case, when it badly underestimated costs in the 1990s and nearly collapsed, before a reorganization led by Earl.

Rogoff said later he looks forward “to seeing the fruits of my labor,” compared with a federal policy post.

“You can really count on one hand, with a couple of fingers left, the number of communities that have meaningfully and aggressively planned for the growth in its future, that has a vision for how transit can improve future conditions, and its quality of life.”

Los Angeles comes to mind, he said, where voters approved two tax hikes and multiple train lines, along with Dallas.

Rogoff said the Sound Transit 3 plan, headed toward a possible 2016 vote, attracted him.

Constantine said Rogoff will “help us shape that proposal to make it more beneficial and attractive to voters. His experience is going to help us navigate what are, in the best conditions, choppy waters.”

Along with proposed property, car-tab and sales-tax hikes, the expansion could include train rides as long as 50 to 60 minutes from Everett or Federal Way into Seattle. Is there a natural limit?

“Compared to what?” replied Rogoff. Recently, car or bus rides of at least 70 minutes have become routine from Everett to Seattle.

“What’s important,” he said, “is not just to look at imposing the project on conditions today, but what trip times people will be willing to accept when they’re faced with the congestion of tomorrow.”