Duane Berentson was elected to the State House of Representatives in 1962, and spent 18 years representing Burlington, Skagit County. He served on the House Transportation Committee for almost his entire tenure and helped to pass enabling legislation for public transportation. Named Republican co-Speaker of the House in 1979, he was a one-time candidate for Governor in 1980. Berentson was appointed Secretary of Transportation in 1981, filling the position after William A. Bulley's retirement. Berentson retired on May 28, 1993.
While Secretary of Transportation, Berentson continued to broaden the Department of Transportation's highway and road-building focus to include mass transportation. He is credited with instilling a new sense of purpose and professionalism in the department. He established better communication with, and better effort from the Legislature for the department. Unfortunately, Berentson was beset by the woes of the troubled Issaquah class of ferries, and by the ferry system's labor issues and harassment lawsuits.
Berentson negotiated final federal funding for Interstate 90 and it was completed on his watch. He also secured federal funding to complete US 395 to the Tri-Cities. In 1990, the Seattle Downtown Transit Tunnel was finished, and Washington State Legislature approved the High Capacity Transit Act, paving the way for a regional mass transportation system to be studied. Although an accident during refurbishment work sank the Lake Washington Floating Bridge later that year, the Homer M. Hadley Floating Bridge next to it had been completed the year before. Berentson summed up his tenure: "I came in at a controversial time. There were several incidents, but it all worked out. The ferries that were delivered still function today."