Bush picks former highway administrator as next Transportation secretary

Tuesday, September 5th 2006, 11:48 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush has chosen Mary Peters, a former federal highway administrator, to succeed Norman Mineta as secretary of transportation, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

Bush was to announce his choice in the Roosevelt Room of the White House later in the day.

Peters spent three years directing the Arizona Department of Transportation, where she worked her way up through the ranks during a 16-year career there. Since November, Peters has been national director for transportation policy and consulting in the Phoenix office of Omaha-based architectural, engineering and consulting firm HDR Inc., according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not been made.

Peters, who was chief of the Federal Highway Administration from 2001 to 2005, fills a Cabinet seat left open when Mineta left the job in July after six years on the job. Bush wanted to announce his choice as the Senate returned from its August recess so the confirmation process could begin.

Peters is an advocate of user fees, or tolls, for building new highways. In a recent interview, she said that the federal highway program will run out of money by decade's end without substantial changes and, rather than raise taxes, some states are turning to toll roads already to fill gaps.

``You just can't depend on the federal government to bring the money in that was around when the interstate system was first built,'' Peters said.

A year ago, there was speculation that Peters would be a GOP candidate for governor of Arizona. She said then that while she believed she would have been a strong candidate, and was eligible to run despite having lived in Virginia, the issue would have been a distraction from the race.

Peters spent four years in the Washington serving in the Bush administration as head of the Federal Highway Administration. Peters registered to vote in Virginia but she has said repeatedly she always intended to return to Arizona after her federal service.

Peters said then that while she believed she could have made a solid case to prove her eligibility to run for governor, the issue would have been a costly and time-consuming distraction. A constitutional provision requires candidates to have been Arizona ``citizens'' five years before the election.

Mineta was the only Democrat in Bush's Cabinet. There had been speculation for years that he was on the verge of quitting, sometimes because of his health and sometimes because or rumors about a cabinet shake-up. Instead, Mineta became the longest-serving transportation secretary since the department was formed in 1967.

After the Sept. 11 hijackings, Mineta oversaw the hasty creation of the much-maligned Transportation Security Administration, which took over responsibility for aviation security from the airlines.