The Minnesota Government Engineers Council and the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers recognized Len Levine with their first and only award, Administrator of the Year, for his leadership in running the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT).
As the head of Mn/DOT he was responsible for the operation of eight district, state-wide offices, 5,500 employees and an annual budget of over $1.3 billion. He personally led the statewide effort to increase transportation funding and after 17 months, Minnesota received the largest transportation funding package in the state’s history. This was followed the next year by the second largest amount of funding. There was not a stable source of funding before his time in office at Mn/DOT and there has not been a steady source of funding since.
Commissioner Levine was acknowledged for making Mn/DOT a national leader in traffic management, traffic safety and highway design. In 1988 and 1989, more than $200 million of highway discretionary funds poured into Minnesota. The successful funding package of 1988 contained $390 million over a three year period. He was responsible for initiating Minnesota’s highway beautification program which saw 3,000 civic, business and family groups participating in the Adopt-a-Highway Program, covering more than 5,000 miles of Minnesota’s roads.
Commissioner Levine initiated the Highway Helper program in 1987. The program (which plays a key role in removing incidents on the freeway) has been expanded gradually since then and now covers 225 miles of Twin City roads. In 2003 the name was changed to: Freeway Incident Response Safety Team (FIRST). Each year Mn/DOT crews assist more than 30,000 drivers.
Commissioner Levine established the first ever Mn/DOT Work Zone Safety Committee, developed a long-range plan to reduce highway fatalities by 50%, instituted a plan to increase visibility at railroad crossings, developed one of the most stringent truck inspection programs in America, established an air traffic controller school at Flying Cloud Airport, initiated the creation of a transportation curriculum for all Minnesota secondary schools (a first in the U.S.), formed an international partnership with the Soviet Union to exchange transportation related ideas and conceived of the plan for a high speed train (almost 200 miles an hour) from Minneapolis to Chicago (in slightly over two hours) which developed into the current Midwest Rail Initiative.
On August 1, 2007 the I-35W Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed during the evening rush hour. Thirteen people died and hundreds were seriously injured. Within minutes of the collapse, every major news outlet in the Twin Cities turned to Len Levine for his insight on the possible reasons for the tragedy and his views on the transportation/infrastructure crisis facing Minnesota and the rest of the country. A little more than one hour after the collapse, he was being interviewed live on KSTP-TV (ABC) and KMSP-TV (Fox). The next day he was interviewed on WCCO-TV (CBS), KARE-TV (NBC) and WCCO Radio. He also appeared on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. In November 2007, KARE-TV did the most comprehensive in-depth story on Minnesota’s transportation problems and Len Levine was one of three (what they called “national experts”) who were interviewed.
As the head of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Levine was responsible for changing the name and focus from the Minnesota Welfare Department to more accurately reflect what the agency really did (overseeing the state’s social services system). During his time in office, the Department of Human Services managed ten state hospitals, had overall responsibility for the administration of many separate disability groups such as mental retardation, mental health, and chemical dependency. In addition, DHS had responsibility for enforcement of child protection laws, supervision of services for the blind and direct program responsibility for the elderly. When he was Commissioner, there were 7,500 employees in DHS with an annual budget of over $1.2 billion.
He was recognized by the legislature and the media for personally leading the effort to deinstitutionalize the state hospitals allowing mentally retarded and mentally ill residents to live in home-like facilities. In addition, he was credited for legislation which allowed Medicaid funding to be used for home care rather than care only in nursing homes.
He designed the first programs in Minnesota for assisted living facilities after personally visiting a variety of such programs nationally and taking the best parts of each and incorporating them into a Minnesota model. Because of his personal efforts, today thousands of people, regardless of their disability or medical condition, are living more normal lives in home environments.