For the President, an Arrival . . .

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

President Bush nominated a former federal highway administrator and longtime transportation policy official yesterday to be the next secretary of transportation.

Bush, who announced the choice of Mary Peters in a ceremony at the White House, lauded his nominee's efforts to ease congestion as head of the Federal Highway Administration from 2001 through 2005.

"Mary Peters is the right person for the job," the president said. "Mary led efforts to improve safety and security, reduce traffic congestion, and modernize America's roads and bridges. . . . Mary has a reputation for character and common sense. She's an innovative thinker."

Peters, who is the national director for transportation policy and consulting at HDR Inc., an architectural, engineering and consulting firm based in Omaha, said the country's transportation systems are "showing signs of aging."

"We are experiencing increasing congestion on our nation's highways, railways, airports and seaports," Peters said at the White House ceremony. "And we're robbing our nation of productivity and our citizens of quality time with their families."

If confirmed by the Senate, Peters will oversee a 60,000-person department that regulates and helps maintain the nation's transportation systems, many of which are facing serious challenges.

The nation's air traffic system is nearing capacity, and roadway congestion continues to be a top concern in many parts of the country.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Peters said the federal highway program could run out of money by the end of the decade. "You just can't depend on the federal government to bring the money in that was around when the interstate system was first built," she said.

As the nation's top highway official, Peters kept a fairly low profile but worked hard to better focus her agency on tracking spending and grants, former transportation officials said.

"The highway administration had been focused on just writing checks, so to speak," said Kenneth M. Mead, a former inspector general of the Transportation Department. "She emphasized oversight and stewardship of the money, which was a sea change. She made sure the money went where it was intended and accomplished what it was intended to do."

Rep. James L. Oberstar (Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also praised Peters's tenure as head of the highway administration, saying she was "competent and very knowledgeable."

"She was a good manager," Oberstar said.

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